Friday, January 30, 2015

Auburn's Understated Needs of 2015 Signing Day: Center

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Social media is currently  inundated with National Signing Day articles. It is a flood of flips and flops, hopes and dreams of a mythical NSD championship. And, for the 5th year in a row, the rest of College Football is scrambling for the Tide's scraps. Yes, it's true (and hard to admit). Alabama will sign the most ESPN 300 players in history on their way to perhaps the greatest recruiting class in modern recruiting history. 

Theoretically...of course.  Talent sure helps, but it doesn't win trophies. Alas, we must press on. 

But, no, I don't want to talk about THEM. I want to talk about the Tigers. And, I don't want to talk about the same things all the beat reporters have already told you. 

It's no secret that skill position players are always glitzy and glamorous. The 5-star studs everyone is talking about, whether at QB, RB, WR or otherwise have fans wringing their hands. Fans simply can't wait to see these talented plays get their hands on the ball. And, why not? They do amazing things when they have the ball. I admit it, I am excited to see Kerryon Johnson take the field for the Auburn Faithful. So much so, that I wrote an article about how it was imperative that Auburn MAKE SURE he makes it to The Loveliest Village on the Plains, called Keeping KJ. Take a second to read it. Across the SEC, schools are stockpiling these skill position players with reckless abandon. Auburn is right there with them. 

When I decided that I wanted to partake in the NSD discussions, I wanted to talk about Auburn's actual NEEDS in recruiting. The needs I came up with, off the top of my head, were the same ones that most all the beat reporters had listed, though I disagree with the priority that they have. Yes, Auburn has some definite needs on the backend of their defense. Auburn has a very understate need at receiver, and it isn't getting talked about....but I will get there.

Looking for some inspiration, I started thinking about the major losses on the offense. Obviously, most expect Jeremy Johnson to be as productive as Marshall, just in a different way. Losing Sammie Coates hurts, but it is almost completely offset by the return of Duke Williams. CAP led the SEC in rushing, but most expect Robinson and Thomas to match his numbers, combined at least. Then, I thought about Reese Dismukes. After the 2013 campaign where the Auburn offensive line was a road grater, I expected Reese to come out with Greg Robinson. I even wrote that having Reese return was more important than having Tre Mason return in my Secret to Success in 2014 post. He returned and was a front runner all season for the Rimington Award, which he eventually won. Because of the late season implosion of the team, the bruised and battered fan base didn't quite grasped the enormity of that award, or what losing the player who won it would feel like. 

The success of this past generation can be weighed on the experience of the center. 2004, 2010, and 2013/14 ...all regarded as the best offensive units in a generation, all featured the same thing: an offensive unit that had gone through trial-by-fire as freshman and sophomores before turning into an all-SEC cohesive unit. Dismukes, like his predecessors in Ingle (2004) and Pugh (2010) were tested early in their career before turning in superior performances later. Dismukes will go on to an NFL career where his predecessors did not, but that isn't surprising as Dismuke was highly regarded coming out of HS as f the best center in the nation by most recruiting services. While I take all of the recruiting with a grain of salt, after reading his bio and watching his game film, I listed him as a "can't miss" All-SEC caliber player before he even arrived on campus. I believed it so much that at fan day in 2011, he was the first autograph I went after. A true freshman center wasn't hard to find, as you can imagine. Dismukes started as a true freshman.

Throughout his career, he missed several games for several reasons, notably the game against Clemson in 2012. In his place, several players made ghastly appearances. for example, Tunde Fariyke managed to snap balls over his QBs head on multiple occasions. With Dismukes out of the game, the drop off in offense was always notable. Dismukes hasn't had the same backup in consecutive years, perhaps a testament to a lack of priority in recruiting.
Dismukes was a blue chip kid out of high school. Getting him on campus paid drastic dividends for Auburn to the tune of a 4 year starter and Rimington Award.  Dampeer was Dismukes in 2014 and seems poised to take the starting job in 2015. Yet, in my eyes, he isn't the tough, hard-nosed punisher that makes all the right calls at the line. 

So, I started thinking, even if Dampeer works out, who is behind him? 

With NSD just a few short days from now, I checked Auburn's current commitments, signed LOIs and early enrollers. Auburn has two guys already with signed LOIs that are offensive linemen, both listed as guards. Those would be 4-Star Tyler car and 3-Star Bailey Sharp. Carr is already one of the best overall prospects in the country, but his size (6-5 320) looks to prevent him from being a center. Outside of these two, Auburn has only 2 commitments playing offensive line. Both Kim and Harrell are 4-star guys. Harrell has prototypical size for a guard or tackle while Kim's size may lean towards the ability to play center. 

Scrolling through the list of centers on Rivals, you have to skip all the way to  #16 to find a kid that hasn't committed. And, from there down are nothing but 2-Star players.

I recognize that, at this point in their career, an offensive lineman could make the transition, but not all CAN. Playing center is a entirely different position than any other position on the line. The center has to make all the coverage calls, pick up the blitz, while listening to audibles from his QB. And, he touches the ball every single play. It doesn't stop there. The center has to also be able to get a good snap  to his QB and get into pass coverage efficiently, something harder than it seems. On run plays, he has to make difficult cut blocks, and is one of the few positions where it is expected to chip AND get to the second level on every play. If you watch Dismukes, you will see that every good between the tackles run is setup by a second level block on a linebacker. 

We talked earlier about how fans can't wait to see a certain 5-Star receiver get his 5 touches a game. But, little is said about the position that touches the ball every play. When it comes to center, it has to be a kid with a cerebral understanding of the game, attention to detail to ensure that every snap is great, the ability to be tough and physical with an oversized defensive tackle and  today's specimen of an SEC linebacker on every play. These jack-of-all-trades are far and few in between.

It is surprising to me that Auburn didn't manage to push for a replacement to Dismukes.  There were 4 4-Star centers in the 2015 class. Notre Dame, Iowa, Alabama and North Carolina managed to snag one of these guys. Kennedy went to Alabama, a line already stacked with potential NFL caliber. He will have to sit behind Kelly, already a multi-year starter. Hoge went to Notre Dame despite being from Idaho. The remaining two went to out of school teams....neither team a potential Top 25 team in 2015. 

Is it possible that Auburn might try a late push to flip one of these guys? You would think that an attempt would be made on Kennedy, who resides in Wetumpka. Despite being committed to the Tide, he is probably the best chance the Tigers have to flip a commitment at the 11th hour. 

Despite the claim that the Hurry Up No Huddle Offense is a faced-paced down hill, run first offense, it sometimes appears to me that Coach Malzahn's recruiting more resembles the West Coast Spread. There is more emphasis on the skill players than the line of scrimmage. Of his 21 current commitments,  HALF (10) are skill position players (and not a one is a straight WR...interestingly enough). Another 4 are LBs, which have been a sore spot at Auburn for some time.  For a team that wants to be physical upfront and limit mistakes, the Tigers have not recruited very well. 4 total OLs and none of those a legitimate center, the position that may be the most understated need on the roster.  

Product Review for BSA Sweet 22 Scope for your .22 Rimfire Rifle

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Squirrel hunting is one of my all-time favorite outdoor activities. To be honest, I hadn't really been squirrel hunting in several years until this past year. But, I had several friends who had expressed an interest in it and I was constantly being prodded by my loving Granny to eradicate her tree rats.

 When I was 13, my grandaddy bought me a Marlin bolt action .22. On top we put a cheap Tasco score. It worked, but was pretty frustrating to use because the aperture on the scope was so small that locating the target was difficult. As a result, I never killed more than 2 squirrels a day.

Many people had been reading my Last Man on Earth posts and had remarked that the most useful item that I could purchase was a Ruger 10/22. So, I went out and bought one, then proceeded to outfit it. You can read about it here: My Ruger 10/22 Build

While I was outfitting it at Academy, I was convinced to spend more money and purchase a BSA Sweet 22 scope. At first, I was daunted by the price. If I bought that scope and the best mounting hardware, I would double the invested cost. But, I did it anyway. Here is a link to several options within the BSA Sweet 22 line.

Here are some stats on the model that I bought:

"Upgrade your plinker with crystal - clear precision! BSA Sweet .22 3 - 9x40 mm Scope, SAVE BIG! A shot to remember! The BSA Sweet .22 grants serious optical power to any garden-variety .22, turning your plinker into a varmint killer. There's no guesswork, thanks to the .22-specific trajectory compensation and adjustable objective. With separate swappable turrets for all the common .22 loads! We saw a deal rear its head... and didn't hesitate to pull the trigger. Gear up here for BIG BUCKS OFF the original retail! A better look, made affordable: 

  • Specifically calibrated for the .22 LR round, with quick-change turrets for 36-gr., 38-gr. and 40-gr. bullets!; 
  • 3-9X magnification fully-coated optics;
  •  40 mm objective; 
  • 10.8-3.6 mm exit pupil;
  •  F.O.V. @ 100 yds. is 36.6' at 3X, 15.7' at 9X; 
  • 3" eye relief;
  •  100% waterproof / fogproof / shockproof; Adjustable objective; Hand-adjustable windage and elevation.; 1" tube.; 
  • Includes lens covers.; 13"l. Weighs 20 ozs.; Buy rings separately.; Order yours today! 
Dialing in this scope was easy because the elevation and windage adjustments are extremely linear, something that cheaper scopes can't boast. It took me a grand total of 30 minutes to turn my 10/22 to a tack driver at 50 yards. 

I was immediately amazed by the aperture that I now had. Locating targets was quick and easy. I would leave it on the 3 power since most of my shots were fairly close. This allowed me to quickly locate and acquire a shot. For those longer shots, such as a stationary squirrel in a tree, I could easily dial up the magnification.

Instead of losing targets because I couldn't find them, I could hit that critical first shot before the squirrel ran. The 40mm aperture gathered light fantastically, eliminating the struggles of shade and diminished sunlight at dusk. 

The first few trips out, I would double my normal kill count from 2 to 4. Then, I started having 6 kill days. Then 8. Because of the success that I was having, I made it a tradition to hunt each Friday afternoon of the season. As a result, I had days like this one: Squirrel Hunting 

I was taking less shots and getting more squirrels. Though most kills came at close range (again, quickly acquiring targets that I couldn't have done with another scope), I was also able to hit shots at far greater distances, even up to trees 50 yards away with a squirrel 20 yards up the tree, with a good rest. 

The revelation really came when I started bringing friends. I would put them on the squirrels and let them use their own guns. However, each and everyone struggled. It took me awhile to figure out why. They were using the same cheap scopes I had been using. So, I would swap guns with them. That made all the difference. It was awesome seeing my friends find success.

However, my greatest success was getting my 5 year old hooked on hunting. No, he doesn't shoot, but being able to convert those long walks into kills made it worth it to him. Every time we go out, he knows we will get one, which is why he likes to go. 


Yes, the scope is probably 4 times as expensive as the scope on your current .22. And yes, but the time you add quality base and rings, you will have more invested than the gun itself. 

However, a gun, no matter how expensive, is only as good as the optics you use. In this case, you will be able to acquire and resolve a target easier, quicker, and with much greater accuracy. 

Sighting in this scope is painless, as the elevation and windage adjustments are very linear. 

The aperture is amazing and gathers light magnificently.

The scope is hearty enough to resist being knocked off. I have dropped my rifle several times without knocking the accuracy. 

The adjustable magnification makes it easy to go from a close range shot to a tree-topping shot. 

The scope has excellent precision. As I stated, it is nothing for me to shoot 20 times in a hunt and come home with 8 squirrels. 

I loved this scope so much that I bought a second one for my Marlin bolt action. However, it should be noted that you will need to buy a different set of rings, as the rail on the Marlin is much smaller. Here is a link to what you will need. 

This will be the best investment you can make in your varmint plinker. Don't hesitate on the price. Also, buy from Amazon as the chain stores want DOUBLE.

I give this a 5 Stars out of 5

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Product Review for Strike King 6XD Crankbaits

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Watch the 6XD in Action! 

Chances are, this product review is an exercise in futility. Pretty much any bass fisherman who does any sort of cranking has undoubtedly used a Strike King crankbait. However, the more involved I get into the sport, the more I find that the average fisherman isn't comfortable with fishing water deeper than 10 feet and virtually no one is comfortable in fishing open water. 

A lot of the issue with fishermen (or fisherwomen, such as my wife) in fishing these areas stems from a lack of confidence in throwing a bait into an area that they cannot visualize. When they do take the chance, if they aren't successful, they usually give up quickly. After all, finding success is a multi-faceted process of first locating where the fish are holding. Typically, the fish are holding on a specific type of underwater structure. Through the use of properly dialed in electronics, a fishermen can pinpoint an exact area, but boat position and casting angles once the fish are located becomes key. Then it comes down to selecting the correct bait. 

It isn't as easy as picking up a shakey head, a jig, or a C-rig and tossing it right on the fishes head...unless you are already comfortable knowing exactly where the fish are and you have the confidence of using minutes per cast. While these techniques are abosultely deadly on these bottom-dwelling fish, most fishermen unsure of themselves in this water column will avoid these technique entirely. 

Crankbaits, while already a bait that is a fish favorite, is one of the best ways to catch these fish and build confidence in offshore fishing. The crankbait covers a lot of horizontal water in a quick fashion, allowing a fisherman to fan-cast around and quickly cover the water until they pinpoint the eact location. Most companies carry crankbaits in a wide variety of colors, which you can fine tune to what the fish want. But, your selection of what brand of crankbait is just as important. Why? Because not all crankbaits have the right quality in the unspoken rules of cranking. 

A crankbait needs to be able to:
  • Represent some sort of forage via coloring that would interest the fish
  • Cast far and accurately
  • Get to depth quickly
  • Get to the desired depth
  • Swim true
  • Exhibit effective swim motion despite speed
  • Withstand rigors of grinding on rock
  • Overall effort to retrieve on the fisherman should be reasonable
I am no pro, that's for sure. But deep cranking is one of my loves. I have several different brands that I employ on different occasions, all of which I have selected by reviewing many other brands. If you are interested, you can read some of these review. Of note are:

The two represented above bookend the price ranges. In between these are perhaps my favorite line of crankbaits, which balances quality, productivity, and price. That being the Strike King 6XD. 

  • The 6XD, like all of the Strike King cranks, come in a multitude of colors. I only use a handful of these. I typically use powder blue back, sexy shad, chartreuse sexy shad, citrus shad, greenback chartreuse and sexy ghost shad. I select my color typically by water stain and the relative overcastness of the sky.  
  • The 6XD casts well, but because it is a round body, it offers significant wind resistance, keeping it from casting as well as some other cranks, specifically flat-sided cranks. It is significantly lighter than many other brands, which helps off set its cast-ability.
  • The 6XD doesn't get to depth as quickly as I would like. It is faster than many brands, but getting it into the strike zone requires several handfuls of yards, which reduces the effectiveness of each cast. That is, you have to overshoot your target area by a significant margin. However, it does an adequate job of getting to depth, allowing you to come off of ledges and dive to the next depth quickly. 
  • The 6XD claims an 18-20 foot depth. I have never been able to consistently hit those depths on anything less than 10 pound test flourocarbon. 14-15 feet are usually obtainable, however. To get to these depth would require a much further cast than I typically can achieve with a 7'6" cranking stick with 10 pound test, though I do admit that I am conservative on my casting.  I would hesitate to go under 10 pound test because hangups are extremely common and the smaller diameter line doesn't have the abrasion resistance or tensile strength to work a bait out of a hang up. 
  • Typically, these baits run well out of the package. Most all of them could use some tuning, but will run well enough to fish. On occasion, I have found some of them to be untunable. If you have one that runs wildly and doesn't exhibit any ability to correct via tweaking the D-ring, I would toss it. 
  • Fish obviously like the wobble and swimming motion. It's a quick motion that is fairly tight. That tight wobble allows it to work pretty efficiently through cover without slinging hooks into everything in its path.
  • Speaking of working through cover, I do admit that the bill is susceptible to being chipped. The bill is not as hearty as the Spro Little John, but that helps keep its weight down. The cost is that a full days worth of banging rocks will pit up the bill, or at least discoloration through stress bending. I have never shattered a body by hitting anything. The only issue I have is the glue on the eyes fails and the eyes fall off. 
  • This bait is one of the easiest deep diving baits to retrieve. I can throw this most of the day without much fatigue. 

Like most everything in life, you can spend as little or as much on crankbaits as you would like. I have zero issue spending $18-20 on a Lucky Craft or a Spro Little John. I have before, and I will again. However, the Strike King 6XD is incredibly affordable at a $7 price point. Additionally, unlike many of the aforementioned companies, you can go into any bait shop and find Strike King 6XDs, and in most colors you want. 

Perhaps my favorite thing about the Strike King cranks is that I can buy these in silent models. Most days on the water, I open up with silent cranks and I employ them on tougher days as well. Rattles are great at letting fish know your bait is in the water and easy for them to find. When you are targeting an area you are very familiar with and know the fish are there, using silent cranks allow you to target reaction bites. Conversely, rattling baits let the fish know your bait is coming. If the fish are spooked or uneasy, they know to get out of the way. A silent bait sneaks right up on them. 

Technically speaking, the bait covers my needs in a crank very well. It is fairly hearty, comes in good colors, dives and swims as I need it and doesn't work me to death. 

I give it a 4 out of 5 Stars. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Twitching Soft Jerk Baits in Grass

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Fishing the Tennessee River, like many lakes around the country, means that you have to learn to fish grass. I find that many fishermen are daunted when it comes to grass because it seems that baits and presentations become limited, especially in the thick stuff. Most people think they are limited to only top water frogs.

I found myself in that category. I would throw a hollow belly frog in the thick stuff and a plastic swimming frog in the scattered stuff. I would sometimes go flipping, but it wasn't (and still isn't) a technique I have confidence in. And, sometimes the fish just wouldn't want to hit the frog. Many times I thought it was simply the shape and size of the bait. The bass on Guntersville see every single style and color frog there is, and I am sure they have seen every hop and twitch cadence known to man (and fish). Additionally, I always wondered just how many frogs actually get eaten by bass.

Best5Zach's Basics to Frog Fishing

Surely not as many as are thrown at them each and every year. Come to think of it, I have never seen a frog jumping around the grass. What I HAVE seen is minnows....and lots of them.

One day in 2013, I found myself in an interesting spot in late August. The fish simply weren't hitting the frog and flipping wasn't panning out. When these days happen on Guntersville, it is usually a sign to go home early. Borrowing a tip I learned from a fishing buddy, I decided to throw a weightless swimbait on the grass. But, I was all out of swimbait. However, I had another option that I thought might just work...and succeed....even better.

One of the first products that I bought from PowerTeam Lures was the Hammer Shad. It is one of their more unique baits. It comes in two different versions: The 3.6" and the 4.8". It comes in 7 very unique colors

For the magnum fish we experience on Guntersville, Wheeler, and Pickwick, I had bought a lot of the 4.8" Hammer Shads. That turned out a good choice, as the 3.6" was a little hard to throw on 50lb braid.

Here is what they have to say about their own bait:

"Big brother to the popular 3.6" JP Hammer Shad, the 4.8" JP Hammer Shad was designed to do an equal amount of damage on the water. But now with its proportionally larger size, the 4.8" not only appeals to largemouth and small mouth bass, but it's also the perfect profile for both stripers and redfish as well. The 4.8" JP Hammer Shad can be fished a multitude of ways; Bottom bounce it on a football head, stroke it through the water column on a jig head, or fish it weightless as a twitch bait on a 6/0 EWG hook and Hammer bass near the surface. Also, due to its flat belly design, the 4.8" JP Hammer Shad is great for skipping in and out of the water like a fleeing bait fish. So when you see bait fish getting busted at the surface, you know what to do!  And for you Chatter bait lovers out there, rig one on the back of your 1/2 oz Chatter bait for an awesome big fish presentation."

One of the main uses of the Hammer Shad is using it as a soft jerk bait, just as most people use a Zoom Fluke. I didn't have much success early in the year with using them as a jerkbait. So, I quit throwing them and the Hammer Shads were put away. This seemed to be a good time to pick them up. After all, what better time to throw something they had never seen. So, I picked up a H2O XPRESS ETHOS 7 foot 6 inch heavy action rod with a Shimano Citica reel spooled with Suffix braid. I tied on a 5/0 EWG Gamakatsu hook and threaded on a PowerTeam Lures 4.8" Hammer Shad in "money".

I threw it on top of the famous Guntersville grass, keeping the rod tip up, and twitched the bait back, just as you would do a similar soft jerkbait in clear water. Within 2 casts, I had a fish come through the grass, 2 feet in the air, and engulf the Hammer Shad. It was probably the hardest hit of the year. He wasn't a monster, but it was awesome to have such an immediate reaction to this bait.It hit the bait so hard, it bent the hook, as you can see. I stuck to it for the rest of the day and went through an entire bag of plastic baits and registering some great catches, which you can see in the video.

The next day, we had our family fishing trip to our little lake in Tennessee. Before I handed over the tackle to my wife and mom, I tried the technique out. Unlike Guntersville, our lake doesn't have much grass. What it does have are scattered. So, when the bait was in those holes in the grass, I slowed down and let it sink. The buoyancy of the plastic and the braid and the weight of the hook, the bait drifted down to the bottom just right. Every once in awhile, I would twitch it like a standard soft jerk bait. The fish would destroy it.

It didn't take long to figure out that it was the key. Almost every cast, I would throw it out, wait for the ripples and splashes to settle, twitch it twice, let it sit, and as I took up would either nail it head on or I would watch the line take off. After I had caught 3 or 4, I handed it over to my mom and my wife and I sat and watched. I told them to ignore where the grass was. Just throw it. if it was on the grass, twitch it on top. When it got to a hole in the grass, let it fall and then twitch it some more.

The looks on their faces were absolutely priceless as they experienced such hard hits. Sometimes, they would get too excited and keep the bait close to the surface and the fish would come exploding out of the water. Did they catch one on every cast? No. But the technique is fun and versatile enough that a novice can have fun with the bait and experience a great amount of success.

It has also served me very well in standing grass, not just the matted grass. Wilson lake, two dams down from Guntersville, is a much deeper contoured lake that doesn't have the matted grass. The thinness of a soft jerkbait makes it perfect for casting into the standing grass and twitching back to the bait. Where a frog might struggle to maintain contact with the water and is consistently fouling because of its bulk. The twitch bait doesn't exhibit these issues.  I find that jerking and twitching through the grass and then dead-sticking it on the edge is absolutely impossible for local fish to resist.

After seeing the bait succeed in both the thick and scattered grass situations when the typical frog baits aren't working or can't work, I decided to add that to my arsenal. It has paid off mightily over the last two years. I started out using it just on the tough days I couldn't get a frog bite, but it has transitioned to a mainstay that I lead out with on days on the lake. It is a bait and technique that I KNOW no one is using (though I chuckle that a few more people might start using it), and it gives me a serious numbers advantage. Soft jerkbaits mimic just what the bass are actively hunting 9/10ths of the time....shad. This is why I think it is such a deadly bait. Frog bites, 9 out of 10 times, are pure reactionary. I have personally witnessed fish follow the soft jerkbait to the boat as well as hit the same bait 5 or 6 times in a row. Neither of these things will happen with a frog. In the following vid, you will see it happen.

As I stated, fishing grass is something you must do in the South. Many times it can get tough, sometimes because the fish aren't biting your frog because they don't aren't reaction biting. Sometimes it's because they have seen all of them already THAT DAY. This technique presents a realistic meal to a fish, and not just a reaction bite. It is extremely versatile for any grass condition, whether scattered, matted, or standing. It doesn't foul up. And...the bites are plentiful and brutal.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Product Review for H2O XPRESS® Men's Softshell XTREME Fishing Parka and Bib

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*****Updates on 1/26/2017*****
I have owned these for right at a year and a half or so. The jacket zipper is ruined and will not zip up. Additionally, the lining of the pants has ripped really bad, which may be my own fault. Most importantly, the waterproofing of these isn't nearly as good as some brands. It's ok for mist and even steady rain. However, if you are sitting in water or let it pool up, it will soak through.

Starting in 2013, I made more of an effort to get out in the early months, while the average southerner was in a deer stand. Sometimes the weather was decent, and I could simply add layers. Other days....not so much. When the weather was downright nasty, rain and wind in spades...I relied on my Frogg Toggs. And, let me tell you, they have been a colossal failures. I have had 3 sets and they have ALL come apart at the seams. Literally. The pants rip and the crotch. The zippers fail on the first zip-up.

For the last 2 years, I have relied upon my eclectic assortment of snow skiing gear to keep me warm and dry. I found that decision to be...unsatisfactory. My ski equipment isn't made for a constant barrage of rain. It isn't meant to resist flying crankbaits. And, it wouldn't cut the wind. A lot of that DID have to do with the age and overall condition of the gear.

So, I decided that I would save up any birthday and Christmas money I received and put it towards some equipment. The first thing I looked at was the BPS 100MPH gear. But, the cost was prohibitively expensive. While I appreciate how well the BPS stuff is made and how it guarantees warmth well into freezing temps, I wasn't on board with HUNDREDS of dollars. I also didn't need to stay warm in sub-30 degree weather. I am hardcore, but if there is ice on the water, you can count me out. What I did need was superior rain and wind-repelling material that was heartily made and would resist every hook in the boat being magically attracted to it. Last, but not least, red isn't my color. Red is for the OTHER half of the State of Alabama.

That got me looking at Academy. I already liked their house brand stuff. I have had GREAT luck with their H2OXPress Ethos Rods, which I reviewed here.

Initially I looked at their cheaper set, which costs around $150 for the bibs and jacket. I am a real short guy, so I need extra short bibs. But, I have very wide shoulders and need an X-large jacket. My local store NEVER has the set I need. The day I went shopping for them, sure enough, they didn't have the sizes I needed. But they DID have the combination I needed in the XTREME set, which was significantly more expensive(another $60 or so, which is a lot to me). Initially I was skeptic, but I tried them on and compared them to the regular XPRESS set. I was amazed at the weight difference in favor of the XTREME. It felt a lot lighter. Additionally, it had neoprene cuffs to keep water from going up your sleeves. I had a little money (at the time), so I went with them.

Here are the spec's

Designed with double-layered, reinforced material, the H2O XPRESS® Adults' SSX XTREME Softshell Fishing Bib provides optimal coverage to help you stay protected from the elements. The bib features a 100% polyester shell and a nylon and spandex trim for comfortable wear, 2 fleece-lined hand warmer pockets and 2 large, exterior cargo pockets. Reflective shield heat seal on the back.

Features and Benefits for the Bibs

  • - 100% polyester shell with an 82% nylon and 18% spandex trim for comfortable wear
  • - 4-pocket design with 2 fleece-lined hand warmer pockets and 2 large, exterior cargo pockets
  • - Double-layered, reinforced material at the seat, cuffs and knees
  • - Leg openings with hook-and-loop closures offer adjustability
  • - Water-repellent zippers
  • - Stretchy side gussets support mobility
  • - Reflective shield heat seal on the back between the shoulder blades
  • - H2O XPRESS® logos on the left chest and down the right arm
  • - SSX logo on the right of the back
With a hook-and-loop storm flap, water-repellent zippers and windproof construction, the H2O XPRESS® Men's Softshell XTREME Fishing Parka offers a great choice for cold-weather comfort. The parka features fleece-lined hand warmer pockets, long sleeves with interior waterproof neoprene cuffs and a 3-point adjustable, vented hood to help you stay warm and protected from the elements. Reflective shield heat seal on the back. Front-zip closure.

Features and Benefits for the Coats

  • - 100% polyester outer shell with an 82% nylon and 18% spandex trim for cold-weather comfort
  • - Windproof construction with polyester fleece-lined hand warmer pockets
  • - 2 large exterior cargo pockets, 2 water-repellent chest pockets and 1 water-repellent arm pocket
  • - Water-repellent, zip-up front closure
  • - Long sleeves with interior waterproof neoprene cuffs
  • - Vented collar
  • - Double-layered, reinforced fabrication at the seat
  • - 3-point adjustable, vented hood
  • - Full-length hook-and-loop storm flap
  • - H2O XPRESS® logos on the left chest and right arm, with an SSX logo on the back of the right shoulder
  • - Reflective shield heat seal on the back between the shoulder blades
I have now worn them in the rain and high wind as well as sub-30 degree weather and I can tell you I am THOROUGHLY impressed with them.

I like the understated color (black) with the nice logos on the sleeves.

I LOVE the waterproof cuffs.

The set is amazingly light. That may come at a cost to warmth at extra low temps.

I have slung jigs and crankbaits into them and SO FAR I haven't had a hook get stuck. That's going to change as they get older, of course.

The pants are very easy to put on and off, even with shoes.

They have double zippers with a velcro flap on top.

The set is very light and very roomy, without binding up.

The pockets are very roomy and easy to access. This is important if you are wearing gloves. The pockets are also deep, allowing me to put my phone and other things in there and have easy access without worrying about them falling out.

They cut wind at 60MPH with ease. I was pretty surprised by this, but I was able to run down the lake wide open without having the wind cut into me.

For a little over $200, you can have a set of of bib/jacket that can rival the best. Is it as good as the BPS stuff? Honestly, I don't know. But the BPS jacket is $250 BY ITSELF. I am sure that BPS really shines when the wind, temp, and rain gang up on you, but that's for a more hardcore fisherman than I. I am on a budget and I cannot see spending $500 on that.

I was able to wear a single set of Underarmour cold gear under jeans and a pullover, plus this set in 10MPH winds and rain in 30 degree all day without getting cold. That's good enough for me. The main point of emphasis is the COST. Also, I have the ability to take it back to my local store if I have issues. That wouldn't be the case with BPS.

Based upon new updates, I have downgraded these to 3 out of 5 stars

Book Review for Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer

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Product Details

"Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition. The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself. They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything."

So, I once again utilized Amazon to search for and purchase a book. This one carried a 4 out of 5 star review, over the course of 460 reviews. Pretty good, right? So, I bought this book without actually reading a user review. Now, I admit that sometimes people give unfair review of literature. Sometimes a book doesn't read like they would like. Or it ends in a way they don't like. Sometimes, books are too simple. Or too difficult. So, I usually avoid reading the actual reviews because I don't want a few people to taint the book or give something away. One of these days, I am going to learn to not go on the average Stars awarded and read a random set of reviews. It seems to me that if you look at the first reviews, they are always stellar. It's almost like the writer's family and friends write the first reviews. Only later do you start seeing the more realistic reviews.

Ok, so I say all that and haven't talked about the book.

I read the description above and thought it sounded interesting. I noted that having an all female cast would be...different....for me. But, I was open to new experiences. I can't recall the last time I read a first-person narrative of a female. I have read several books, namely "Titan" where the lead character is a female.  This book certainly sounded like it comes from the "big dumb ship" idea, where characters are introduced to an entirely new (at least temporary) environment in which they know nothing about. For some reason, that type of literature always appeals to me, as I try to figure out what they are seeing before they realize just what it is.

Regarding the POV of a woman heroine....if some of the lines were left out of the book, you would never know it was a woman. In fact, it reads just like a male. The character is flat. She exhibits little to no emotion, even in her back-story about her dead husband. She is very calculative and scientific. I felt that her personality was force-fed to me. I had to be convinced on who she was at times and this was done through back-story and not during the action of the book.

This book certainly started off just as I expected, with the 4 women explorers traipsing around an unknown environment. They had been given little to no information on what the other expeditions had seen or experienced. They were given very basic understanding of the environment in which previous expeditions had already encountered, leading me to question "why." The easiest assumption is that this is some sort of government experiment.

The explorers encounter many things they do understand, such as ruins of towns and typical flora and fauna. We are never told WHY they encounter such things, and if they matter. Just that they are there and are not entirely important. Though, readers like me will realize that very little is every written that doesn't matter, so we file it away. Soon they begin to encounter things they do not understand. These things are outlandish and strange and totally incomprehensible to the explorers. They do their best to explain it their limited ability, like a toddler explaining long division. Shortly after encountering some inexplicable findings (for the explorers), we discover that the explorers are all victims to deep hypnosis. Because we are limited by the main character's understanding, we are left with the impression that this was done in order to ensure mission success, but also left with the deep question that all of the unexplained MAY BE explainable, just incomprehensible to the heroine due to the mental conditioning. Surely, however, all things will come to light.

Sprinkled into the heroine's narrative are seemingly out-of-place recollections. Again, a reader is left with the impression that these must somehow figure into the plot. For example, we wonder if, through these recollections, we will ever find out what happened to the other expeditions. After all, the back cover talks about a whole expedition dying from cancer, but no more is ever offered in the book OTHER than simply stating they died from cancer. In the end, these flashbacks offer no real information other than very basic knowledge of the heroine's husbands demise.

The books spirals into the surreal. By the end of the book, the heroine is experiencing things she doesn't even begin to comprehend, both about herself, the past expeditions, and her surroundings. It was like trying to understand a raving lunatic on acid explaining the colors she sees. I kept trying to read her description of things and think: "Oh, she is explaining a deer. She just saw a deer for the first time and didn't have the vocabulary to explain it." Except that she is trying to explain monsters.

By the end of the book, I found myself wondering just what I was reading. Everything that had been written up until that point was in question. To me, the entire book read like someone's far-fetched dream. A dream that made sense while asleep, and then they tried to wake up and write it all down and remember the exactness of it, it didn't make much sense. Like, how could THIS be if THAT happened? Only few things were in focus and the rest of the details were hazy and unclear.

If you are like me, you will read down to the last page hoping that someone will explain things. I honestly got down to the next to last page, and as I flipped it over, I thought it would be a single paragraph that said something like:

"They were all dead and in purgatory." or "They were abducted by aliens and selectively memory wiped and being watched for their interactions with a seemingly foreign environment." 

Alas, the book just ended.

Whenever reading a book, you have some basis and boundaries of realism. By the end of this book, you are unsure of anything real. There were no real boundaries set. Nothing was sure to have happened or to exist.  Does Area X even exist? Does the heroine exist and if any of this story is being told from a sane person's point of view. Insanity is certainly hinted at strongly in this book. Most importantly, what was the reason for the expedition? 

So, if you go read the reviews, you will see much of the same. It is 208 pages meant to confuse you, keep you guessing, and make you purchase another book. I don't mind those, usually, but I like to know where we are headed. I am sure that by the end of the 3rd book, we will know what happened to her and her husband. We will know what the "crawler" is. We will know WHY the government sent all the expeditions. We will understand what Area X is. I can't help but think this is a scenario where a writer went into this knowing he wanted to sell 3 different books, but only had the ideas for 1, so he strung together some stuff to bait people to keep buying.  I had to work my noodle a whole lot and produced nothing. While entertaining, I was not entertained. Does that make sense? No? Then you understand how I feel.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Product Review for RAVPower 15,000mAh External Battery

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A few weeks back, I wrote an article on Tips and Tricks for Videoing Your Fishing Trips. In there, I outlined some of the ways to make sure you don't miss anything while you are fishing...or hunting....or what have you. One of the important points I made was to go ahead and spend the money on extra batteries. I, myself, bought a Wasabi 2 battery and charger kit off of Amazon, which you can find a link to here:

But when I was preparing for our family trip to Tampa for the Outback Bowl, we decided to take our Acura instead of the Yukon in order to save gas money. However, the Acura doesn't have an entertainment system, and 3 kids under 10 need entertainment. Tablet and phone batteries only last so long, and there are only some many USB/cigerette lighters in the car. So, I needed another solution. My mother in law let me bother her external battery pack.

Now, it wasn't the first time I had seen one of these, but not one this big. Typically, the ones I see are small and used to charge a cell phone. This one was fairly large. We used it all week and I was fairly certain that this was something I needed, regardless of the use. I knew I could use it on travel to keep my phone charged, or to charge my GoPro. So, I decided to look it up on Amazon, fully expecting it to be in the $150 range. I was AMAZED that the price was so low, $39.99 to be exact. At that price, I decided to pick one up. While I could get away with a smaller one, the price per mAh made this one the best deal.

Here are the stats.

"RAVPower 3rd Gen Deluxe 15000mAh External Battery Portable Dual USB Charger 4.5A Output Power Bank. iSmart(tm) Broad Compatibility, Fast Charging, High Capacity, Ultra Compact."

Here is the Amazon link to it:


Two days later, I had my battery.

  • It says it is fast charging. That doesn't refer to the amount of time to charge the battery itself. In the few times I have charged it from near 0% to Full Charge, it took 24 hours. 
  • Now, it will charge my Samsung S5 from 0% to Full Charge in under an hour. That's especially true if I use the 2.4A port instead of the 2.1A. However, it creates a lot of heat during the transfer. I believe there are a lot of losses in using the 2.4, but it is very quick.
  • While on travel last week, I used it every day for 4 days to keep my phone completely charged. I stayed on my phone constantly. I never charged my phone with a wall charger. The battery died on the way home. 
  • The case is very hardy. I have dropped it several times.
  • I wish it had a digital readout on the battery life remaining. All it has is a series of blinking lights that tell you it's between 100-75%, 75-50%, etc. 
  • The major downside is the size. The battery is around 6 inches long, 4 inches wide, and an inch thick. It is also fairly heavy.
  • I wish it had a mini-USB outlet. Instead, it has 2 regular USB and micro-USB. 
Over all, this is a necessity of you spend a significant amount of time on your phone or other media device. It has days worth of power for your devices. For those who fight battery issues when using a GoPro, this is the perfect solution. I frequently use 5 batteries and still miss about an hours worth of data, if I want good resolution and frame rates. For $40, I recommend you get this. 

I will update this in a few months when we see what the recharge-ability is like after a lot of cycles. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fishing Report for Guntersville 1/17/15

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Having sold the Skeeter a few months ago has left me at the mercy of my many great fishing buddies. Luckily, I have a lot of them, so if I REALLY want to go fishing, I can normally make that happen....even if I have to make some not-so-subtle solicitations. 

One of those came this past Friday. I had been in Utah on business, watching rockets blow up (that's a GOOD thing), and when I got home I was ready to fish. After all, February typically marks the beginning of the tournament year. My friend Brian, whom I had fished and played softball against, made a comment on the book of faces that he was going to go flipping for smallies on Guntersville. He had me at "flipping", as you may recall I named this technique in my New Year's Resolutions as the technique I *HAD* to master. Then, there was that "smallies on Guntersville" bit. I was ubber intrigued. So, I asked if he didn't mind taking me along. Luckily for me, he didn't mind at all.

Over the next hour, we talked about what I needed to rig up with. I was at a complete loss for what I needed to do to prepare. He said we would be flipping jigs and cranking. Well, one of those I am pretty good at. The's a work in progress. So, I rigged up a medium heavy action rod with 17lb Segaur AbrazX flouro (thank goodness I buy in bulk! If you don't, go read WHY YOU SHOULD). On that, I rigged up a PowerTeam Lures 3/8th's ounce Bull Nose Jig in watermelon red flake backed by a PTL Diesel Craw in the same color. 

There are been a very warm day that Friday which had followed several days of brutally cold weather. It appeared that Saturday would be a perfect day to find the fish active. Additionally, the weather was supposed to be nice that day, though it would be post frontal which meant high skies and potentially high winds as well. Some of these things are good. Some of them are very very bad, notably the high skies. But, I needed some Vitamin S in my life and Saturday promised to provide that. 

On the drive to meet Brian, I couldn't help but notice the temperature outside was a balmy 25 degrees, despite the sun having been up for 2 hours. Not quite the warming trend we had hoped for. By 8 AM, we were in the water and headed to catch some fish.

I was tossing a custom painted jerkbait from Frog Junky Lures. I had promised James, the owner, that I was going to get him some pictures. But the fish weren't biting it, nor anything else we threw at them. So Brian slid us up the point on the inside of an island by about 50 yards. We graphed a ton of fish sitting off the first hard break on the creek channel of this island, sitting on the bottom in 23 feet. Since the jerkbait wouldn't reach, I went to one of my favorite lures in all of creation, the Strike King 6XD in Powder Blue Back. 

That seemed to do the trick. I was able to go on a solid tear of catching stripes and whites. While that is definitely fun, it wasn't the bass we came to catch. Since the fish were sitting on the bottom, I picked up the PTL jig and went to work. Brian employed the ole Tennessee River Hop, which is when the fisherman pops the jig every few seconds off the bottom. It is a trade secret in the south, especially on TVA lakes such as Guntersville, Wheeler, and Pickwick. I am not as comfortable as he with the jig, so I stuck to the one technique that HAS worked (albeit, not very often)...which is dragging.

As I hopped the jig down the first big break on the creek channel, a fish SMASHED it. A good hook set and a small fight later, I had bagged a solid spot. A few minutes later, a nice sized striper hit the jig, which AMZAINGLY, I hooked up and swung in the boat. The next few hours, we alternated between catching whites on cranks, or trying to pick up spots on jigs. The whites and stripers would hit the jig almost every cast, if we let it sit on the bottom. But, we couldn't hook up with them. Every once in awhile, we would manage to catch another spot. Brian was able to get a decent spot on a Bama rig, even.

But the spot and the striper ground to a halt around lunch time. Ironically, that was about the time it was warm enough to crank the big motor and make a run.

We ran to a stretch of main river which was covered by rip rap. Brian stated that this long stretch of bank regularly produced nice smallies. After covering a good bit of water, we realized that it was indeed a slow day, so we better hook up with any bites we did get.

At least twice I had a fish headbutt the jig. Both times the fish nearly took the rod out of my hands. But, when I slammed the rod back, nothing was there. It was frustrating to know I was missing some big fish.

Eventually we got to the end of the rip rap, but Brian pointed to a small cutout on the bank which had a submerged lay down. He explained that there was ALWAYS a smallie in there.

I made the first pitch into the laydown without a bite on the drop. So, I pulled it back in and made a second pitch. This time, I let the jig soak for a second before hopping it. As it settled back, a fish pounded the jig. I set the hook and the fish pulled back. I quickly told Brian I had a winner on the line. He dropped his rod and fished out a nice 4 pound smallie...exactly what we came to catch. And, it was exactly where he thought it was.

We fished a while longer, but I had to get on the road for a family function. While the action wasn't what we hoped, we caught a good number of fish and we bagged a magnum smallie, just as we hoped.

I can't wait to get out there and try it again. Not only was it fun, but it makes me get better at techniques.