Alex is a filmmaker based in Southern California. He recently produced the documentary Low & Clear which was hailed by Field & Stream as "The best fly-fishing movie ever." The film is available on DVD and will be released on VOD and iTunes in June.
The point of gear is not gear. Sure, a finely made rod or pair of boots has its own allure as simply an object – the craftsmanship behind the stitching, the sense that all these years of human experience and knowledge have gone into one pair of boots to keep you dry – that’s all enticing. But on the slow days when I've found myself in my home office standing in my waders at 2PM on a Thursday locked into some extended steelhead daydream, even then, I’m not thinking about the gear, I’m thinking about an experience.
And ultimately this is what being well-outfitted is all about. You buy quality gear not to marvel and obsess over it but with the hope that once you’re on the river and focused it’ll be the last thing on your mind. Anyone who’s ever had painfully cold feet stuck in bad boots knows what I mean. The quiet of a big river and the long gaps in thinking that fishing provides get scrambled when you’re freezing and there’s an ache in every step.
About a month ago my Dad’s mother passed away. It was a long time in coming but that didn't make it any easier. After we got the news we did the next logical thing – booked a steelhead fishing trip. We've been fishing with Gino Bernero of Confluence Outfitters for over a decade and at this point the relationship has mutated to where he’s less of a guide and more part-shaman, part long-lost uncle. He put us on the Applegate River last month in the hope that we’d land some steelhead before the season closed and they’re left to go about spawning and surviving.
Southern Oregon was unusually cold. Twenty-eight degrees in the morning and the water hovered around forty-two. I layered synthetics and down and topped it off with the Pro Guide Wading Jacket
. It has weight that immediately locked in some body heat, and the exterior has a toughness to it as if the folks at Filson had set about to make synthetic Tin Cloth. This was an element of the jacket that I appreciated during a push through a bramble-thick river bank. Without the fabric, my down sweater would've been torn to pieces and I’d have some serious scratches on my neck.
As the day went on the jacket did what all great pieces of gear should do – it disappeared. There’s a big range of motion with it so I didn’t notice it during spey casts. The sleeves locked out any water that could have trickled in, and the only comment on the look and fit was from Gino who said two words when I put it on: “Style points.”
On our second day out we stopped at a gentle turn in the river where a heavy hole created a prime space for fish. I was nymphing with a pattern to match the March browns we’d seen rising earlier. Three casts in and all of a sudden it felt like there was a cinder block at the end of my line. This was a big fish in deep water and I was using an eight-weight single-handed rod so the fight couldn't be too aggressive. We parried and played until she gave herself up, a 28inch 9lb hen still yet to spawn. After 110 miles of freshwater swimming her look was firmly on the trout-side of the spectrum and beautifully so.
This moment: the fish in my hand, my dad smiling and Gino laughing was what we came out here for. The rods, the reels, the flies, the boat, the waders and the jacket was all for this; so that despite whatever may be going on back at home we could spend a little bit of time unencumbered.
The jacket continued to perform well and it still does. It’s seven in the morning on a Friday, I’m dreaming of steelhead and leaving for work in an hour and I’m sitting at my kitchen table, wearing it.