I have never done this before, so bear with me. Also keep in mind that I have not received any kind of discount or promotion for listing anybody's products here. Like most people, my gear selection are driving by the moving target of quality vs. price; and so much of what I have to discuss lies in "the middle of the road" in both categories. I think you'll enjoy my list, and feel free to chime in with your favorite gear - especially for the types of gear where I have yet to find satisfaction (at the bottom of the list).
KEEPING WARM: As I get older, and slower, keeping warm and dry are at the top of my list for keeping safe and comfortable in and around the water. Between work, surfing, kayaking, hunting, and fishing, I spend easily 75 days per year on, in, or around the water. This is where I spend the most money (per item) on gear, so there's a lot I've experienced. Here we go.
- Waders - purchased the Cabela's Light Mag Waterfowl Waders ($139 on sale) and I have been very pleased with them so far. They aren't so heavy that you will overheat while setting up for a hunt, but they are sufficiently thick and armored to deal with cold temperatures, briars, and the usual stuff that non-rich guys like me need.
- Waterfowl gloves - I'll get back to this at the end of the post, but here's my 2 cents on what I've found so far...it's CRAP! I need my gloves to do 2 things: keep my fingers warm and be thin enough so I can comfortably shoot without feeling like I have marshmallows taped to my fingers. I started the year with Avery's Neoprene Shooting Gloves ($19.99 at Mack's), and first of all, the sizing was atrocious. I am only 5'7" and the fingers of the "large" glove only came down to my second knuckle! I called Avery directly and they kindly exchanged for an XL pair, which barely fit. They are good shooting gloves, but provide absolutely no thermal protection. Useless in temperatures below 45 degrees. Next attempt at gloves was the Gander Mountain Guide Series Waterfowl Glove ($14.99 at Gander Mtn). This is a typical waterfowling glove, I picked them up in a pinch because it was too cold for the Avery gloves. What a mistake. I can't even feel the gun through the thick, pre-formed, stiff neoprene and what's worse, the very first time I put my hand in the water, I found out that the stitching inbetween the fingers leaked! A lot! I was pretty disgusted.
- Base layering: on this whole theme of "keeping warm," I have finally moved away from cotton clothes and wearing 6 layers underneath my waders / bibs. And if you think it's trivial that I'm talking about underwear in a "gear review," obviously you've never been cold ...I mean...REALLY cold!!! I was surprised at what I found, though. The best value for my money has been with REI's store brand mid-weight performance underwear ($25 - $40). I've also been fairly satisfied with Gander Mountain's Scent-Lock top (price varies widely from month to month)- it's very warm and I'm sure the bottoms would just roast you to death. Likewise, cheapo-technical underwear by Champion at Target ($15 - $29) has been very effective at keeping me warm, but does a horrible job at wicking away moisture. Swampy! The biggest disapointment of this group? Patagonia's baselayer products ($45 to $65) which got shredded in the wash. My patagonia stuff was expensive and effective....but only for about 6 months, when the material started fraying and falling apart.
- Bibs - I've bought 3 pairs of waterproof bibs (Walls, Field & Stream, and Cabelas) over the last 18 months, but I'm still trying to figure out what I like & don't like about each. Nothing notable to report so far.
- Game calls: This is just a "best and worst" category. The best call I purchased this year was the Primos Timber Wench ($21). Dollar for dollar, you CANNOT beat this duck call. It is as raspy as all hell, and the volume control is much easier than with other similar "sub-$50" duck calls I used. The feeding chuckle is not great....but hey....for $21 you can still carry your other call with you for chuckling. Now, the worst call I purchased this year is the Primos Honky Tonk short reed goose call ($35). It is crazy high pitched, and very difficult to establish consistent back pressure. The fact that I'm still learning to call well with a short reed doesn't help, but I can say for sure, "this is not a good call to learn on."
- Ammunition: nothing exciting here. On the nontoxic side, I continue to have good luck with Kent Fasteel; shooting 3" #3's for ducks and 3.5" #1's for geese. The loads are consistent, and the shells do not easily corrode or rust when exposed to rain/snow/water. I've had very mixed luck with Black Cloud, and will likely try it again this season, even though they have jacked the price up about 25% over 2008's price. In the 20 gauge, I've enjoyed luck with both Winchester Texas Heavy Quail Loads ($7/box) and B&P F2 Legends ($9/box). I'm a very "average" shooter so it's hard for me to tell a lot of loads apart. In fact, the only load I consistently stay away from is Winchester XPert, one of the cheapest loads on the market.
FISHING: I've been doing more freshwater and less saltwater fishing over the last few years, and here are a few thoughts:
- Spinning rods: I continue to have lots of success with my Wally Marshall light spinning rod ($35, $38 w/reel, Bass Pro). Purchased in March 2008, I've used a variety of reels on it and have found it to be very responsive and "just strong enough." New to the quiver this year were two other spinning rods: the Pflueger Razor Tip ultralight ($49 - $69) and the Berkeley Amp light rod ($29). The two rods couldn't be more different. The Berkeley rod felt very strong and steady, and casts farther than any L / UL rod I've owned. It just doesn't cast where you want it to go. It also broke in two while trying to pull a 1/4oz jig on 4lb line out of a tree. If the tug wasn't enough to break 4lb line, it should not have broken that rod! So, I will not be buying another Berkeley rod. The Pflueger is a finesse rod, and I'm having a little trouble getting used to it. It's very sensitive, which is nice when the fishing is hot, and annoying when the fishing is bad, or you're fishing in a current.
- Reels: I use a variety of reels, but the positive standout is definitely my Okuma Hardstone ($39, Cabelas) that usually sits on my Wally Marshall rod. The absolute worst reel I've dealt with this year (I've owned it longer, never had a good experience, but keep trying!) is the Shakespeare Low Profile Baitcast Reel. It is such a nightmare that it's not even worth describing. If your choice is to buy this reel or not go fishing, don't go fishing. I'm currently shopping for low-price baitcast reels, and thinking about this Okuma ($44), the Pflueger Cetina ($89), the BPS Mega Cast ($40), or the BPS Tourney Special ($49).
- Lures: I use a huge diversity of lures, but far and away the most successful lures per cast in 2009 have been Joe's Flies. These little lures are fantastic for using in over-fished areas where smallmouth and largemouth have seen every senko worm and crankbait in town. Their product line is pretty expansive and obviously can handle trout and panfish quite easily. Seems like a good company and I encourage you to check them out!