Getting Geared up for Some Trout Fishing

Members of my outdoor group and Cabela’s customers often ask for my advice on selecting gear for trout fishing. I decided to put together a little primer to get them started. Hopefully this will be of use to you if you are looking to do some trout fishing in the upcoming season.

I’ll focus first on the gear you’ll need whether you decide to use spinning tackle or flies. Then I’ll cover optional gear that can improve your experience. I’ll then discuss rods, reels, lures, and other essential tackle. I’ll highlight the specific items and models I own or recommend with photos and links to help you find these items. It is possible to spend a lot of money, but getting into the sport requires no more than a $50 outlay plus appropriate fishing license – if you already hike, camp, or do other types of fishing, you likely have some of the basic gear already.

Gear Essentials

Whether you plan to fish with flies, lures, or live bait there are items you will need for all types of fishing.

Fishing License

A Wisconsin Resident fishing license will cost you $20. To fish on cold water trout streams (any stream shown in color on the trout regulations map), you will need the inland trout stamp, which is $10 extra. If you want to fish on any Lake Michigan or Lake Superior tributaries downstream of the first impassable barrier (dam, lamprey barrier, etc.), you will need the additional $10 Great Lakes stamp. Anyone under 16 years of age does not need a license to fish in Wisconsin. You can purchase a license online at Go Wild. You no longer need the printed license – your driver’s license serves as your license.

Be sure to check on the regulations in your state before venturing out on the water. In Wisconsin, the early catch and release season runs from 5:00am on the first Saturday in January until the first Friday in May. The general season runs from the first Saturday in May until October 15. An extended catch and release season is open until November 15 on various Lake Superior and Green Bay tributaries. Be sure to consult the regulations book to make sure you know any special regulations that govern a particular stream. During the early and late seasons, only artificial lures may be used on inland streams.


Hats can serve three purposes when on the water: sun protection, rain protection, and warmth. I usually wear a baseball cap when fishing, which allows me to attach my GoPro camera to the bill. Baseball caps will help keep your head warm in cooler conditions. However, many trout anglers will wear a wide brim hat in all but freezing conditions. Two excellent wide brim options are the Outback Trading River Guide Mesh Hat and the Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero. The River Guide hat is great for sunny/warm conditions, as the mesh allows air to flow over your noggin. Because it has Gore-Tex and an insulated lining, wear the Seattle in moderate to cold conditions, especially when it is raining. In freezing weather, a good knit cap or skull cap, such as the Under Armour Infrared Beanie, will do the job. I’ll sometimes combine a baseball cap with an ear warmer headband so I can still use my GoPro clipped to the bill.

sunglassesPolarized Eyewear

Most sunglasses will do a good job protecting your eyes from all the UV bouncing off the water when fishing. Even on an overcast day, your eyes will get very dry and itchy due to sunburn if you don’t protect them.

Polarized lenses add the benefit of filtering out a good portion of the light reflected off the surface of the water. This is a crucial component of safe wading in a trout stream or river. Being able to see rocks, drop offs, submerged timber, and other riverbed features may not only save your life, but it will help you spot the places where trout will be hiding.  Being able to see your lure, worm, or fly might allow you to change your retrieve if you see a fish following it.

Today you can get a pair of decent polarized sunglasses for as little as $20. Practically every sporting goods store will have them, and any Wal-Mart or convenience store probably has some, too. When you are ready to get serious about the sport, I recommend investing in a better pair. Serengeti, Revo, Maui Jim, and Ray-Ban all make great sunglasses. I currently wear a pair of Costa Ballasts, and they are pretty amazing.

Upper Body Clothing

Avoiding overheating or hypothermia is pretty important. In a less extreme sense, the more comfortable you are, the more you’ll enjoy your time on the water. That means you’ll fish more often!

As always, layering is a good idea. In all seasons but the summer, air and water temperatures can change very quickly and widely. I recommend wearing a lightweight moisture-wicking base layer, such as the Under Armour Heatgear Undershirt, in all weather conditions. Add a fleece or fishing shirt over that. My favorite fishing shirt is the Columbia Bonehead long sleeve shirt. It can be worn in hot conditions or layered with baselayers and a fleece vest or parka in cold conditions. Your outer layer in cool or cold conditions can be either a fleece vest, such as the Cabela’s Snake River Fleece Vest, or a parka. I am on my second Columbia Whirlibird Parka, and I love it. The only drawback to a full size parka is that it will get wet if I wade deeper than my thighs and don’t have it tucked into my waders. The way to avoid that is to go with a wading jacket, such as the Simms Guide Jacket. There are certainly far cheaper models on the market. Wading jackets are cut a little shorter so there is less chance of submerging the hem.


Lower Body Clothing

What you wear to cover your lower body when fishing for trout will vary widely depending on air and water temperatures. You will want to keep your lower body dry when the combined air and water temperature is below about 120 degrees F. Most people don’t like to “wet wade” under any conditions. You don’t even have to wade in a stream in order to fish for trout. However, wading in a stream makes landing and releasing fish much easier, and it is far easier to keep spinners and other crankbaits deep enough to catch fish.

In cold conditions, your base layers will be identical regardless of whether you wear waders or not. Start with an Under Armour, Heat Last, or Cabela’s MTP wicking layer. In temps below freezing, add a fleece layer. If you will be wearing waders, you can stop here. Normal fleece lowers work fine, but consider something like the Cabela’s Fleece Wader Pants, which have stirrups so the pants won’t ride up as you don your waders. If you aren’t wearing waders, almost any long pants will do. However, I usually go with a lightweight convertible pant, such as the Columbia Silver Ridge. These can be converted to shorts as the day gets warmer.

In warmer conditions, you might still wear a thin wicking layer, which can help keep you cool. Convertible pants or shorts work just fine. I sometimes wear my swim trunks when wet wading. The main drawback to wearing shorts or swim trunks in the summer is that your legs can get pretty scraped up from tall grass, bushes, and nettle while getting to the stream. This is where convertible pants come in handy. Wear them long while walking to the stream, and zip off the lower legs before wading. They are light enough that you can just wear them in the stream, too. They’ll dry quickly once you are out of the water. The only drawback is that the current will tug harder at your legs.

In cold or warm conditions, you may decide that you prefer wearing waders. Again, if the combined air and water temperature is below 120 degrees, waders are mandatory.

wadersYou have essentially four categories of waders to consider:

Neoprene waders will help keep you warm, so a fleece layer is unnecessary. However, they don’t breathe so your base layers will typically be soaked in sweat when you take them off. A wicking layer is a must. Neoprene waders are usually less expensive than breathables and will stretch a bit as you move.

Breathable waders are just that – they allow moisture to pass through the material. They are usually made out of Gore-Tex, but some brands have their own waterproof-breathable material. Cabela’s Dry-Plus is an example. Most breathables are not insulated, so you would need a fleece layer or long underwear underneath them in colder conditions. Some hunting breathables will have Thinsulate insulation to help keep you warm.

The next decision to make is whether bootfoot or stockingfoot waders are right for you.

The total cost of bootfoot waders will usually be less than stockingfoot waders, even though the waders themselves might be more expensive. Bootfoot waders are bulkier and less suitable to walking great distances before or after wading in the stream. They are also tricky to get the right fit. If you are particularly tall, short, thin, or fat, you’ll have great difficulty finding a pair that fits your feet and your body. Being “big” with small feet or “small” with big feet is an even bigger problem. Usually the size of the wader (girth and height) increases with shoe size.

When purchasing bootfoot waders or wading boots, I recommend “lug sole” rather than “felt sole” boots. Felt is impossible to clean thoroughly and allows invasive hitchhikers to be spread from stream to stream. Moreover, many states are beginning to outlaw felt soles for that reason. Wisconsin’s ban will be coming soon.

Stockingfoot waders will increase your total cost because you’ll need to buy a pair of wading boots to wear over the neoprene stocking. However, they are superior in comfort when hiking and wading over distance. They are also easier to get the right fit because the stocking will accommodate a range of shoe sizes. You then just need to get a wading boot that fits your foot. Simms even has a custom wader program where you can send your measurements, and they’ll make a pair that should fit perfectly. This is great if any of your measurements are above the 90th percentile or below the 10th percentile.


If you purchased stockingfoot waders, you will need a wading boot. Cabela’s has boots starting at $80, but they are often on sale, and the Bargain Cave will have even better deals. I recommend sticking with an inexpensive boot like this unless you are ready to commit to the sport long term. At that point, I recommend investing in the Simms G3 Guide Boot. It is the most expensive boot on the market, but it is worth every penny to be that comfortable all day. I’ve worn about 6 other models, and there truly is no comparison.

There are two other options for wading and keeping yourself dry: hip boots and rubber boots. Hip boots will allow you to wade thigh deep without getting wet. The LaCrosse Big Chief is a good option. Rubber boots will allow you to wade shin deep while keeping dry. The LaCrosse Grange is one of the most popular rubber boots on the market. As you will note, hip boots and rubber boots are almost as if not more expensive than waders. Moreover, it is not uncommon when wading in a stream to reach a spot that is belly deep with high banks. Without chest waders, you would have to walk back until you can find a spot to get out of the stream and walk around the deep spot. I recommend sticking with waders unless you already happen to have a pair of hip boots or rubber boots.

If you plan to fish from the riverbank and not wet your feet when there is snow on the ground, you’ll need a good winter boot. If the snow is deep, you’ll probably need snowshoes, so a winter boot should have a snowshoe strap lip on the heel and d-ring for gaiters just below the laces. I own a pair of Cabela’s XPG Snow Hikers and have been pleased with them so far.

If you decide to wet wade in warmer conditions, a pair of old sneakers is sufficient to protect your feet. Sandals, such as the Keen Newport H2 will work to protect the soles of your feet. However, you will get small rocks pinned between your feet and the sandal. I recommend a pair of water shoes, such as the Simms Currents, or a pair of neoprene paddling shoes/boots, such as the NRS Kicker Remix Wetshoe. The Kickers will also help keep your feet warm. Spring creek water will still be as cold as 50-55 degrees in the summer. To combat cold feet and protect your feet the best while wet wading, you can wear your wading boots with a pair of neoprene guard socks. You’ll wear a pair of wool or synthetic hiking/wading socks underneath the guard socks. The guard socks themselves insulate your feet while keeping grit and rocks out of your wading boots.

storageStorage Boxes/Cases

You’ll need something to store lures, flies, split shot, hook, and swivels. Nothing will ruin a nice day on the water like being without small items whose supply you just exhausted.

The simplest tackle boxes are Plano Pocket Stowaway boxes. Nearly every sporting goods store, hardware store, and big box store with a sporting or hardware department will carry these. Menard’s has them for the lowest price I’ve seen. You’ll often get these with larger tackle or tool boxes. I have a pair of these I use when fishing with spinning tackle.

If you commit to learning to fly fish, my favorite fly boxes are the Scientific Anglers fly boxes and Tacky Day Pack series. I am gradually shifting from the SA boxes to Tacky because they are thinner and the self healing silicone is the best material for attaching your flies.


You’ll be constantly tying on new swivels, lures, flies, or hooks as you try new techniques and lose these items to fish and snags. Thus, being able to quickly clip something off your line or clip the tag end of a knot is very important. A simple nail clipper will do the job, but you can get nicer ones that also have additional features such as a needle for cleaning up the eye of a hook or a nail knot tool. I currently use a pair of Simms Nippers, which have the unique feature of replaceable blades.


A good pair of pliers or forceps is one of the most important tools you can carry while trout fishing. Being able to pinch down the barbs on hooks or spinners (which is required in some states, especially during catch and release periods) is a key reason you’ll need a pair. The uniformly important reason to have one is for removing hooks from trout you’ve caught. Trout will manage to entirely swallow spinners and crankbaits that move quickly and barely fit in their mouths. A normal pair of needlenose pliers is sufficient for pinching barbs and reshaping or fixing hooks. However, I do recommend a surgical hemostat or forceps designed specifically for fishing. Even needlenose pliers can be too blunt an instrument for getting a hook out of a trout’s gill area. I own the previous version of the Rapala Plier/Forceps Combo. The pliers are excellent and the forceps haven’t failed me yet. They come with a lanyard for securing the forceps to your vest.


Trout are very sensitive to temperature and pressure changes. Just like with smallmouth bass, a front that brings a sudden pressure shift can instantly shut activity on or off. Trout will only be active and/or feed at 40 degrees F and above. This is partially because insect activity is very minimal below that temperature. Above 65 degrees F trout will again get sluggish. Moreover, fighting an angler at 65 to 70 and above can be fatal. The lactic acid buildup trout experience from the trauma of being hooked, fought, handled, and released is no problem in cold water. When it’s warm, that buildup will kill a fish 10 minutes after you release it even if it seemed fine as you released it.

As mentioned above, you’ll need to stay dry when the combined air and water temperature is below 120 degrees. Your car or watch’s thermometer or smartphone will tell you the air temp, but you’ll need a thermometer to know the water temp.

For all these reasons, knowing the temperature of the water is crucial to your success and comfort. Almost any analog or digital thermometer will work. I use the Fishpond Swift Current Thermometer. I also have a thermometer in my Casio Riseman Watch. It takes longer to get a reading while submerging my hand for a couple minutes. The watch also alerts me to changes in barometric pressure.


You’ll need a way to keep your nippers, pliers, and/or forceps handy but prevent them from getting lost in the water. You can simply use some paracord or rope to attach these items to your vest or pocket, zippers, or loops on a shirt or jacket. However, there are plenty of lanyards and retractors on the market that will keep the items out of the way when not in use.

Water Bottle/Hydration Bladder

Staying hydrated, especially during the summer, can be a challenge. You can drink small amounts of stream water, but anything more than a few sips here and there will eventually get you sick. The only exception to that is the most remote mountain streams when fed primarily by melting snow. No matter how clear and clean a stream appears to be, it will have plenty of cysts and bacteria in it.

I carry a bottle of Gatorade or a wide mouth Nalgene bottle filled with water when I’m out on the water. Another good option is to put a hydration bladder (such as a CamelBak) in a rear pocket or pouch in your fishing vest. A number of newer sling packs have a hook and pouch for hanging your bladder inside, such as the Umpqua Zero Sweep. You could even just wear a small hydration backpack, such as the CamelBak MULE.

Optional Gear


In cold conditions, having a standard pair of gloves to wear while walking to and from the stream is helpful. However, there are plenty of gloves on the market specifically made for anglers. Specifically, fingerless gloves are a good compromise between warmth and dexterity. I have a pair of Cabela’s Guidewear 1/2 Finger Fishing Gloves. They take the edge off in cold conditions but still allow me to tie knots, handle fish, and manipulate line and reels. In warm conditions, you may want a pair of gloves to shield your hands from the sun. Simms Solarflex Guide Gloves are a good choice.


It is important to carry everything you need for a few hours of fishing on your person. I sometimes cover miles of a river or stream in a day, and the last thing I want to do is stop fishing just because I am missing or exhausted the supply of something I need.

A good fishing vest is one of the best investments you can make. You can get a decent vest on eBay or Craigslist for as little as $10 or $15. Fishpond and Simms make the best higher end vests. I currently wear a Fishpond Sagebrush. It has tons of storage space without being bulky because of the mesh construction. The mesh helps keep me cool when it is hot outside, but doesn’t add bulk if I am bundled up in cold weather.

Another option instead of a vest is a sling pack. These are becoming more popular. Simms, Umpqua, and Fishpond all make very good packs.

If you will be fishing out of a kayak, canoe, dory, or fishcat or paddling to spots and wading in swifter current, you might prefer a fishing PFD (life jacket) in those situations. I have the Stearns Hybrid fishing PFD. It has open shoulders so I can flycast and paddle without my movement being restricted. It also has a built-in fly tray, retractor, and many lashpoints and pockets. Another great option is the NRS Chinook.


I usually carry my net with me while fishing for trout. I only bother using it on bigger fish to make sure I can land them successfully. There are tons of nets on the market. Cabela’s, Frabill, and Fishpond all make good nets. Just make sure your net has a rubber or rubber-coated basket to protect the trout’s slime layer. Nylon or cloth baskets will remove much of it. The basic net I recommend is the Cabela’s Rubber Landing Net. Normally $40, this net is always on sale for $20. I was pleased with mine until I upgraded to the Cabela’s Burl Handle Landing Net. This net has a rubber-coated cloth basket. It looks beautiful, and I’ve enjoyed it thus far. On my wish list is an upgrade to the Fishpond Nomad. These nets have carbon composite handles and look gorgeous.

If your net does not come with a lanyard and/or net release, that is something you will need to purchase. Fishpond, Simms, and almost every other fly fishing vendor make good net releases and lanyard. I prefer magnetic releases. The magnets are strong, and they make it easy to attach and detach your net from your vest’s D-ring.

accessories_optionalWading Staff

When fishing in swift current or streams with rocky beds, a wading staff might save your life. Having a third leg can be very helpful. In Wisconsin, fishing on the Flambeau, Wolf, and Peshtigo Rivers demands a wading staff. You can just use a trekking pole for this purpose if you already have one or two of those. I own a Hammers Wading Staff, and I have been pleased with it so far despite some bad reviews I’ve seen of it. The Simms Wading Staff is clearly the best one on the market, but it’s pricey.

Waste Disposal

I have run into plenty of lures, hooks, bobbers, and fishing line left on trout streams over the years. I guess it’s excusable when it is up in a tree or on a far bank and the angler didn’t have the means to wade (another reason why being able to wade is important). But most of the time, a person could have easily picked up their mess.

You can always put your excess line and other waste in a pocket, but there are two good options on the market. The Fishpond Piopod is an acceptable option. It can be hard to feed line into it, however. For this reason, I upgraded to the Monomaster. This item has a spindle with brushes on it that catch line and allow you to spin and roll it up inside.

drypakWaterproof Case

If you plan to bring your smartphone, camera, or iPod on the water to listen to music while fishing, take photos, or record your GPS track, you’ll want to protect it. You can also store matches, currency, toilet paper, and your identification or fishing license in a waterproof case. Pelican makes great waterproof hard cases in various sizes. I have a couple of those. When trout fishing, I usually protect my phone with a Dry Pak soft case. These come in various sizes and allow you to manipulate your phone through the front plastic. You’ll need to get their camera case if you want to take picture while protecting the device. I have a Galaxy S5, which is already waterproof. I don’t have to worry that much if I take it out to take pictures.

Sunglass Strap/Float

A lanyard for float for your sunglasses is always a good idea. For whatever reason, few sunglasses float. Thus, keeping them on your head is helpful. There are tons of sunglass straps on the market. Chums and Croakies are two notable brands. I have a hides H20 Retainer. The float can be removed if you don’t need it.


If you plan to fish at or near dawn or dusk (or at night where permissible by law), a headlamp is a great item to keep in your pocket. It frees your hands up to manipulate your gear, land and handle fish, and avoid walking into trees. You can get functional head lamps for as little as $10. I currently use a Cabela’s XPG headlamp, which is actually made by Princeton Tec.


If you are fishing during the early catch and release season, a pair of snowshoes might make your day a lot easier. I’ve been in my waders and wading boots while trudging through deep snow a few times. Needless to say, I’m lucky I didn’t have a heart attack. Snowshoes vary widely in style and cost. The pair that is currently on my wishlist is the MSR Lightning Explore. These have ratchet buckles, which are way easier to get on and off.


If you will be using snowshoes, you’ll want a pair of winter boots with snowshoe lips on the heel and d-rings below the laces to help secure a pair of gaiters. REI, Outdoor Research, and Cabela’s have good gaiter options. Being a bigger guy with solid calves, I need the Mountain Hardwear Pinnacle Stretch XT to fit over my lower legs. All other brands don’t fit me.

Whew! That wraps up the gear you’ll need or want regardless of what tackle you choose to fish for trout.

Selecting Rods and Reels

When angling for trout, there are four basic systems you can use:

  • Spinning rod and reel for drifting live bait
  • Spinning rod and reel for presenting artificial lures (spinners, crankbaits, and jigs)
  • Fly rod and reel for drifting live bait
  • Fly rod and reel for casting and presenting artificial flies

Whether you are presenting live bait or artificials, the rods and reels you will select for each style of fishing will be roughly the same.

Spinning Rods

When selecting a spinning rod for trout fishing, there is a key tension of which to be aware. Many trout anglers will use the lightest tackle possible so that fighting small fish is more fun. However, long fights on light tackle will fatigue smaller fish enough that they are likely to die after release. Even if you will be keeping fish, you are still likely to fight some trout that are under the size limit. Therefore, I recommend using a medium weight (AKA medium power) rig so you can get fish in quickly and increase the likelihood they will survive.

Considerations when selecting your rod are as follows:

  • Rod length – longer rods for larger streams and rivers, shorter rods for smaller creeks. Choose a rod between 5’6″ and 7′ in length.
  • Handle construction – cork or foam/synthetic? Cork usually adds $10 to the price of a rod.
  • Number of pieces – 1 piece rods are difficult to transport and store, 2 or 4 piece are good for travel.
  • Rod action – Faster actions allow longer casts, especially when it is windy.
  • Rod weight or power – ultralight through medium (discussed above)

I generally recommend a 6’6″, 2 piece, medium weight, fast action, cork handle spinning rod as a good starter. A rod like this will work for using live bait or artificials. The two rods I specifically recommend are the Berkley Lightning Rod LR662MS (cork handle) and Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 USSP662M (foam handle). Both retail for around $40 and match the specs above. Watch for Cabela’s sales and bargain cave specials, and you can pick up either of these or better rods for even less money. Obviously there are more expensive rods on the market, but they are overkill for trout fishing.


This length, weight, and action are also suitable for bass and walleye fishing. Thus, you don’t necessarily need a new rod for trout if you already own a spinning rod. The medium weight also allows you to successfully land much larger trout if you are lucky enough to induce them to strike. I prefer cork because it is self-healing and naturally antibacterial. Foam and other synthetic handles get pretty nasty over time. The 6’6″ length is long enough to get good leverage on longer casts, especially in windy conditions, but short enough that you won’t get tangled in too many branches on small streams. 2 piece rods travel well – 4 piece rods are usually a bit more expensive and unnecessary unless backpacking or traveling by plane.

Spinning Reels

It is possible to spend a lot of money on a spinning reel. Because you’ll rarely hook into anything in northern waters that will run on you, most of the extra features and quality that money will be overkill for inland trout. Thus, going with a basic spinning reel of moderate quality is your best bet when getting started.

siennaI generally recommend the Shimano Sienna series when getting started. Regardless of the brand and model you choose, you’ll want something with one of the following in the model number:

  • 100/1000
  • 150/1500
  • 200/2000
  • 250/2500

I recommend getting a reel that has 250 or 2500 in the model number. This will typically hold around 140 yards of 8 lb test line, which I use on my trout, bass, and walleye reels. This will allow you to use the same reel for going after all northern species except Pike and Musky. My specific recommendation would be the Shimano Sienna SN2500FE. It will typically run about $30, but you can often get it on sale for about $20.

If you spend more money on a spinning reel, the two major improvements will be in quality of the construction (more metal, less plastic) and smoothness (more ball bearings).

Spinning Combinations

There are numerous rod and reel combinations on the market from Cabela’s, Shimano, Shakespeare, Abu Garcia, and Fenwick. Combinations will often save you about $10 to $20 compared to separately purchased rod and reel. Cork handle combos are harder to find, but there are plenty of foam and rubber handle combos available. You can often get these for $30 to $40. You’ll usually get reel that is inferior to a Sienna with these combos. However, adding a Sienna or better reel is a good upgrade to make after you commit to the sport and gain experience.

When it comes to spinning rods and reels, you can always go lighter than my recommendations if you want every fish to seem like a monster. The cost of that enjoyment is an increase in the amount of trout mortality you may cause. It’s up to you.

Line for Spinning Rigs

When selecting line for trout spinning rigs, I usually go with 8 to 10 pound test clear monofilament. Most trout  anglers seem to prefer 4 to 6 pound test. The heavier line serves three purposes:

  1. I can use the same line when fishing for bass or walleye without respooling or needing spare spools.
  2. The increased strength is helpful for retrieving lures if they get snagged.
  3. I can land fish more quickly to reduce mortality.

You can certainly use anything from 4 to 10 lb test in any color, including fluorocarbon or braid with a mono leader. The main advantage braid gives you is rarely realized on a trout stream – increased casting distance and toughness. Clear mono seems to be the most stealthy as well. I use Berkley XT 8 or 10lb on my trout reels.

Fly Rods

If you decide to try your hand at drifting worms with a fly rod, just about any rod and reel in a 4 weight or above will work. However, if you plan to learn to fly cast using artificials, you’ll need a decent rod. A good rod will cast better and reduce the fatigue you’ll experience from casting all day.

Considerations when selecting a rod for trout angling on a fly include:

  • Rod length – Longer rods cast more easily and are suitable for larger rivers, shorter rods are good for smaller streams.
  • Rod weight – The size of the flies you will use, the size of the trout you expect to catch, and wind conditions dictate the weight of the rod. For trout, 1 through 6 weight rods are typically used.
  • Rod action – slow through ultra fast – the faster the action the easier the rod casts long distances and punches flies into wind. Faster actions are typically stiffer the closer you get to the butt.
  • Number of pieces – Most modern rods are 4 piece, but you can get 1, 2, 3, and 6 piece rods. The more pieces, the more compact and easier a rod will travel. Both 4 and 6 piece rods are small enough for backpacking or plane travel.

My general recommendation for a beginner would be a 5 weight, fast action, 9 foot, 4 piece fly rod. You should be able to get this configuration in just about every fly rod series on the market. Two excellent starter rods would be the Cabela’s TLr 905-4 ($140 but often on sale) and the St. Croix Rio Santo 905.4 ($130). You’ll be able to fish for trout in almost all types of streams and weather conditions with this configuration. You can even throw poppers and bass bugs with a 5 weight rod.


Spending more money on a fly rod will increase the quality of the materials and construction and generally improve the action and castability of the rod. Lower end rods tend to be slow through medium action. Once you gain some casting skill, you will be able to tell how much better and easier your casting can be with an expensive rod. Most outfitters will let you test rods on-site to get a better feel for each rod. The next step up from the rods I recommended above would be the Cabela’s Theorem and St. Croix Imperial series. Beyond that, you are into real money with rods from Sage, G. Loomis, and Orvis.

flyreelsFly Reels

When fishing for inland trout (as opposed to steelhead and other anadromous trout), the quality of your fly reel is fairly irrelevant. Unless you hook into fish longer than about two feet, you won’t use your reel to fight it. Most of the time, you will just strip your fly line in to land a fish. Your reel is mainly for line storage.

Most reels you’ll purchase to match a 5 weight rod will be designed to hold 5 or 6 weight line. A good basic reel is the Cabela’s Wind River #2 ($40 or less). I owned one of these for a few years and was perfectly happy with it. Another excellent starter reel is the Ross Flystart #2 ($50). The next step up in quality is the Cabela’s RLS+ 2 ($130 or less), which you can get as part of a combo with a decent starter fly rod for $170 or so. I currently have an RLS+ 1 on my 4 weight rod and have been pleased with it so far.

As you spend more money, you’ll get better materials, better drag systems (important for fish that run such as steelhead and salmon), and more beautiful finishes.

Fly Combinations

To save a little money and hassle, you might consider a fly rod and reel combo. These combos will often come pre-spooled with the appropriate backing, fly line, and leader you need to start fishing. Some will come with a case with built-in reel pouch. Other combos will also include some of the other tools and accessories you’ll need. The previously mentioned RLS+ combo is an excellent starter package. It comes with a case and pre-spooled backing, line, and leader.

flylineBacking, Fly Line, and Leaders

If you don’t purchase a pre-spooled combo, you will need backing, fly line, and a leader on which to tie your flies or hooks. Just about any brand will have good options, but my recommendations are below. They all assume a 5 weight, 9 foot rod is what you’ll be loading.

As your casting improves or if conditions dictate, you might consider 9 foot leaders or use tippet to extend your tapered leaders. You might also upgrade to Scientific Anglers Sharkwave Fly Line ($100). It’s truly amazing how much better it casts than anything else on the market. It sounds awesome slipping through your rod guides, too!

If you stop in to the fly shop at your nearest Cabela’s, the fly shop outfitter can help you find all these items and rig up your reel with backing, fly line, and leader for no extra charge.

If you will be drifting live bait on hooks, you can spend less on line and leaders. Your leader can just be a length of clear 4-8 lb mono to which you attach your hook.

Terminal Tackle for Trout Fishing

Once you’ve selected your spinning rod and reel or fly rod and reel and spooled it up with the appropriate backing, line, and/or leaders, it’s time to think about what you will present to trout, how you’ll make sure they see it, and how you’ll detect a strike.

Terminal Tackle for All Situations

You’ll need the following items no matter which of the four basic techniques you plan to employ:

Sinkers – split shot, preferably non-lead, is the most common type of sinker. You’ll need sinkers to get live bait, wet flies, streamers, and nymphs down deep, especially in deeper pools. Some anglers will use split shot to help spinners and crankbaits get deeper. I avoid using extra weight when fishing with spinners because they throw off my casting accuracy.

Bobbers – OK, strike indicators! When using subsurface presentations with live bait or flies, strike indicators will help you keep the presentation at a uniform depth. This will help prevent snags while allowing you to detect a strike. This is especially important when fishing with nightcrawlers or leaches. The fish will tend to swallow the hook if you don’t set it quickly after a strike. The most popular indicators are Thingamabobbers, which come in different sizes and colors. I rarely use indicators since I don’t fish with live bait or nymphs and can usually detect a strike by watching the end of my fly line.

Terminal Tackle for Live Bait

When drifting live bait with a spinning rig or fly rod, you’ll need two things:

  • Hooks – snelled hooks in sizes 4-10. Pinch down the barbs to make it easier to release and avoid killing smaller fish.
  • Bait – nightcrawlers, waxworms, leaches, minnows, crickets, beatles, grasshoppers, or anything else you can skewer with a hook

Terminal Tackle for Spinning With Artificial Lures

When using spinning outfits to fish with artificial lures, there are a number of options. You may wish to put a snap swivel on the end of your line to make changes lures easier and quicker. Swivels will help minimize twist in your line which  in turn avoids tangles and bird’s nests. However, swivels can prevent a spinner from spinning properly. When using spinners, you may wish to use a Duolock Snap or No-Knot Fast Snap instead.

Whether you use a snap, swivel, or tie a lure directly to your line, here are some of the common artificial lures you may employ:

  • luresSpinners – There are many spinners on the market. Some anglers swear by Mepps or Blue Fox, but I have personally had success with Panther Martins. Specifically, I have the most success with Size 4 (3/8oz) Panther Martins with either a gold blade and black body/yellow spots or silver blade and yellow body/red spots as pictured. Size 4 Panther Martins are big enough that you’ll avoid catching too many tiny fish, and they’re easier to cast accurately than lighter versions. You can go smaller on small streams where small brook trout might be all that are present. Cast upstream and retrieve spinners at a slight angle to and slightly faster than the current. Let them sink for a moment before beginning your retrieve. Add split shot 6 to 12 inches up from the spinner to help get it down deeper if needed. I usually don’t bother because of their negative effect on casting accuracy.
  • Crankbaits – Rapala-style crankbaits can be successful, especially for bigger browns and rainbows. One of my students swears by Rapala Ultralight Minnows.
  • Jigs – One of my Trout Unlimited friends has used jigs with nightcrawlers, fuzzy grubs, or bare for years. He seems to catch some sizable fish with those techniques. He retrieves with a normal jigging motion, sometimes just letting it drift and bounce along the stream bottom. I’ve caught a number of steelhead over the years with this technique.

Terminal Tackle for Fly Fishing

fly_terminalThere are three items you may need regardless of which flies you choose to throw:

  • Tippet rings – These small rings can be attached to the end of your tapered leader to make switching or replacing tippet faster and easier. You can also attached a dropper fly to a tippet ring (instead of tying it on the bend of your floating fly’s hook). Wapsi Tippet Rings work well.
  • TippetSpools of tippet will allow you to make your tapered leaders last longer, especially when combined with tippet rings.
  • Floatant – Even perfectly designed and constructed dry flies may need some floatant to help them stay on top of or in the surface film. Gehrke’s Gink is popular and effective.

fliesNow you’re ready to tie on some flies. Here are some of the basic types:

  • Dry Flies – If you notice fish taking on the surface, you may want to go “pure” and throw some dries. I personally prefer dries even if fish aren’t rising because I enjoy the Zen of it. I generally cast Adams, X-Caddis and Elk Hair Caddis, Rusty Spinners, and various hopper patterns in late summer.
  • Wet Flies – There are a number of patterns of wet flies, such as the Partridge and Orange. I don’t usually fish with any wet flies except streamer patterns discussed below.
  • Nymphs – If you want to catch the most fish, nymphs are likely to be the most successful. Patterns such as the Hare’s Ear Nymph, Pheasant Tail Nymph, and Pink Squirrel are popular. I am not results-oriented enough to do any nymphing. I personally don’t like using split shot and strike indicators.
  • Streamers – When I’m not throwing dry flies, I am usually using streamers such as Woolly Buggers and Mickey Finns. Occasionally I’ll throw some Clouser Minnows, especially if I am out of the first two. Clousers are primarily a bass and bonefish fly, but they can yield some big brown trout. You can use split shot and indicators with these or just watch the end of your line carefully. Since you typically strip line in to retrieve streamer patterns and make them act like baitfish, you are likely to feel a strike every time you strip in some line.

Of all the patterns mentioned above, I only tie Adams, X-Caddis, Rusty Spinners, Woolly Buggers, Mickey Finns, and Clousers. I’ll use other patterns I happen to purchase or receive as gifts. There are literally hundreds of common patterns out there, so experiment. I think accurate casting, drag free drifts, and fishing during the right weather conditions will have more bearing on your success than the specific pattern and color. If trout will hit that gaudy #4 Panther Martin, I am pretty sure they’ll hit anything presented properly.

Get Out There!

As with any sport or activity, you can certainly spend hundreds of dollars on equipment. To get out there, you really only need a spinning rod and reel, line, some spinners, a small tackle box, forceps, nippers, and some proper clothing and footwear. You can always fish from the shore even though wading in the stream makes things a little easier.

Buy some of the basics and try it out. Once you’re “hooked,” you can spend some serious coin on all the bells and whistles. There is no shortage of awesome gear to obtain.

Posted in 2ndMost: Fishing, 2ndMost: Outdoors, 2ndMost: Reviews

Choosing a Kayak and other Paddling Gear

Looking to get into the fun and rewarding activity of kayaking? Here’s a primer for choosing a kayak and all of the other gear necessary to enjoying a day out on the water. At the end of the primer is a list of resources for where to paddle plus links to some paddling groups located in the Madison, WI, area.

When choosing gear, I always remind people of the following saying:

You get what you pay for.

That is not always true! However, the following is almost always true:

You don’t get what you don’t pay for.

Generally speaking, the pricier a kayak or related gear is, the more features and benefits it will have. If you are watching your budget, prioritize your paddle and your kayak. You will be thankful for it.

Selecting a Kayak

General Kayak Categories

  • Recreational – available in both sit-in and sit-on-top (SOT) models. Features include a wider beam (width) for stability, larger cockpit area for easy entry and exit, and typically run from 8 to 12 feet in length for easy handling.
  • Fishing – available in both sit-in and SOT models. Similar to some recreational kayaks but include rod holders and other features that make fishing easier.
  • Whitewater – available in both sit-in and SOT models (seriously). Features include a rounder hull for easy rolling, shorter length and increased rocker (curvature at bow and stern) to make turning easier in whitewater, and durable hull materials to resist damage from rocks and other hard surfaces.
  • Sea – Features include a long and narrow hull (typically between 12 and 24 feet) to improve tracking (moving in a straight line), speed, and storage space, and rudder systems to improve the ability to turn the long hull more easily.
  • Inflatable – available in both sit-in and SOT models. Features include portability for easier transport and storage, stability, and forgiving materials to allow the boat to bounce off rocks and other obstructions easily.

After determining which category of kayak is right for the type of paddling you plan to do, you next need to determine if a Sit-In or Sit-on-Top model will best meet your needs.

Sit-In Kayaks

Sit-in kayak pros:

  • Lower center of gravity (improves stability and ability to brace)
  • Enhance your body’s ability to help control the boat (using foot pegs, thigh pads and seat backrest)
  • Generally track better and have a higher top speed
  • More “dry” gear storage
  • Paddler remains dryer

Sit-in kayak cons:

  • Legs are restricted (pinning is more of a risk)
  • More difficult entry, launching, and exit from the boat
  • More difficult draining and recovery after flipping the boat

SOT Kayaks

SOT kayak pros:

  • Easy entry, launching, and exit from the boat
  • Scupper holes allow the boat to drain quickly after flipping or hitting standing waves

SOT kayak cons:

  • Higher center of gravity typically reduces stability
  • Less ability to use your body to control the boat
  • Some track poorly and/or have a lower top speed
  • Limited “dry” gear storage
  • Paddler is more likely to get wet while paddling

Selecting a Kayak Paddle

Kayak paddles consist of a shaft connecting a blade at each end. Shafts can be composed of between 1 and 4 sections connected by ferrules. Most paddles have drip rings near the ends of the shaft to help prevent water from running down onto your hands. The shafts of most paddles shift from a circular to elliptical cross section near normal hand positions to prevent the paddle from rotating in your hand. Shafts can vary in diameter to accommodate different size hands. Bent shafts can help reduce wrist fatigue. Some paddles allow the blades to be set at an offset angle at the center ferrule known as a feather. Some one piece paddles have a set feather. This helps reduce wind resistance on the blade that is out of the water.

Kayak paddle shafts and blades can be constructed from various materials. Shafts can be constructed from (in ascending order of weight but descending order of cost) carbon fiber, fiberglass, aluminum, or nylon. Blades can be constructed from carbon fiber, fiberglass, nylon, or polypropylene. Prices of paddles vary based on length, blade and shaft material, number of sections, shaft style, and blade style. The best advice is to spend the greatest portion of your budget on the lightest paddle possible. The weight of the paddle makes a huge difference in how fatigued you will be during a long day of paddling.

When selecting a kayak paddle, you should also consider the following:

  • Your paddling style (high angle vs. low angle)
  • The type of paddling you will be doing (distance, whitewater, for fishing)
  • The comfort of the paddle in your hands (hand size vs. shaft diameter)
  • Your height and/or torso length, shoulder width, and width (beam) of your boat (paddle length)
  • Physical condition (bigger blades require more strength and endurance)
  • The price range that fits your budget

Once you narrow down the style of paddle based on the first three criteria above, length of the paddle must be determined. Beam of the boat, type of boat (sit in vs. SOT), paddler height (torso length is actually more precise), and shoulder width can be used to choose a paddle of proper length. The beam of most SOT kayaks is wider than most sit-in models. Therefore, some ballpark recommended paddle lengths are:

Paddles for Sit-In Kayaks

Paddler Height Recommended Paddle Length
Under 5′ 5″ 220 cm or less
5′ 5″ to 5′ 11″ 220 – 230 cm
6′ + 230 cm or more

Paddles for SOT Kayaks

Paddler Height Recommended Paddle Length
Under 5′ 5″ 230 cm or less
5′ 5″ to 5′ 11″ 230 – 240 cm
6′ + 240 cm or more

Selecting a Personal Flotation Device

A properly fitted Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is required to be immediately available for each person on every type of kayak in Wisconsin.

It is important to select the most comfortable PFD possible which will encourage you to wear it at all times while on the water. Look for a PFD that provides ease of motion for paddling and does not interfere with the back rest of your kayak. Try to sit in a kayak similar to your own when trying on PFDs at the store to ensure your PFD will be comfortable in your kayak.

PFDs fall into the following categories:

  • Canoe & Kayak Vest
  • Full Motion Vest
  • All Water Sports Vest
  • Inflatable Vest

If you select an inflatable vest, it is recommended that you select a “Manual” version. The manual version will eliminate the potential for the inflatable PFD to deploy unexpectedly during normal kayaking activities.

Selecting Other Equipment

Using the appropriate equipment will increase your enjoyment while on the water.

Recommended Equipment

  • Personal Flotation Device (required by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)
  • Hat (preferably with a wide brim)
  • Appropriate footwear (paddling boots, water shoes, sport sandals)
  • Sunscreen/sunblock
  • Sunglasses (polarized) and lanyard
  • Whistle (required by some paddling clubs for insurability of trips)
  • Signal mirror
  • Water bottle/water
  • Proper nutrition (snacks, bag lunch)

Optional Equipment

  • Key Float
  • Dry Bag
  • Cooler
  • Waterproof case
  • Tether ropes
  • Throw rope
  • Rescue knife
  • Folding anchor or anchor chain
  • Rod holder
  • Action camera (attached to hull or selfie stick)

Transporting and Storing Your Kayak

Whether you are going a mile or several hundred miles, you are going to need a safe and convenient way to transport your kayak.

Typically, there are three basic approaches to transporting your kayak when traveling a distance:

  • Put it on the roof of your vehicle
  • Put it in the bed of a truck or inside a car with seats folded down
  • Carry it on a trailer behind your vehicle

There are several options for carrying your kayak on your vehicle depending on the configuration of your roof. Typical roof configurations include:

  • Bare roof – no factory racks, side rails, or crossbars
  • Factory installed side rails with 3rd party crossbars
  • Factory installed side rails and crossbars

Some of the options for carrying your kayak on the roof of your vehicle are:

  • Foam Blocks – work well for short trips, not recommended for long distances traveling at highway speeds.
  • Crossbars with or without foam blocks – Fairly stable and secure for highway speeds.
  • Crossbars with Cradles or Saddles – options available to carry one or two kayaks. Most stable and secure for highway speeds.

When transporting your kayak, the primary concern is the security of attaching the kayak to your vehicle.  Each kayak should be secured individually with two cam straps (ratchet straps are not recommended) crossing over the top and separate lines connecting the bow and stern to points on the front and rear of your vehicle.  Avoid using one strap for multiple kayaks.

In situations where you need to carry your kayak a short distance, such as across your yard or from your campsite to the water, you can purchase kayak/canoe carts. These are durable metal carts with rugged flat-free tires to roll with ease. Some carts fold or break down for convenient storage.

When it is time to store your kayak in your garage or other building, purchase an even-pulling, two rope hoist system. The hoist can easily be operated by a single person and includes a safety release mechanism.

Paddling Strokes

Understanding paddling strokes will allow you to better control your boat and reduce fatigue, making your time on the water more enjoyable.

Your basic paddle stroke needs several things to be efficient:  a fast clean entry, smooth power while the blade is in the water, followed by a quick clean exit.  Developing a regular cadence will help you keep the kayak moving in a straight line (track).

Practice the various strokes below and see how they help you control your boat. Boat control is especially important when approaching features above the water such as docks or shoals and when paddling in close proximity to other boats.

  • Forward Stroke – basic stroke to move the kayak forward. Insert the paddle blade into the water near the bow of your kayak. Rotate your body as you pull the blade along the kayak through the water. Keep your elbows close to your body as you complete this stroke. Lift the blade out of the water and repeat this same sequence with the opposite end of the paddle on the other side of your kayak.
  • Reverse Stroke – this stroke is used to make a quick maneuver to back up your kayak (known as back ferrying). Place the blade of the paddle toward the stern and close to the kayak and pull the blade forward. Keeping the paddle in a more upright position will maximize the power of this stroke.
  • Draw Stroke – this stroke will help you move your kayak in a more sideways motion. Rotate your body in the direction you want to draw your kayak towards. Place the blade parallel to the kayak and pull on the paddle to move in that direction.  As your kayak nears the paddle, move the blade up put of the water and repeat these paddle motions if needed. Be careful to remove the paddle from the water before your hull nears it or you will likely flip over.
  • Forward Sweep Stroke – this stroke is used to move the kayak’s bow in a forward sideways direction. Stretch the paddle out horizontally toward the bow and use a sweeping motion to move the kayak in the forward sideways direction. For example, using the forward sweep stroke on the starboard (right) side of the kayak to move the bow towards the port (left) direction.
  • Reverse Sweep Stroke – this stroke is used to move the kayak’s stern in a reverse sideways direction. Stretch the paddle out horizontally towards the stern and use a sweeping motion to move the kayak in the reverse sideways direction.

Other Resources

Paddling and Outdoor Groups

Publications and Websites

  • Paddling Southern Wisconsin by Mike Svob
  • Paddling Northern Wisconsin by Mike Svob
    The Svob books are considered the starting point for planning any paddling trip on Wisconsin rivers.
  • Miles Paddled
    The contributors to this site give even better information on their trips than can be found in the Svob books. Their Google maps, videos, and extensive trip descriptions are invaluable tools to planning trips.
Posted in 2ndMost: Outdoors, 2ndMost: Paddling

Survival Gear and Loading a Backpack

Need information about items one needs to survive on a multi-day trek into the wilderness or to survive in emergency situations? I will cover water purification and storage, equipment for warmth and shelter, fire starting equipment, first aid kits, food preparation options, and knives and other related tools that might make surviving in the wild that much easier. I’ll top it all off by looking at how to properly organize and load these and other standard items your backpack.

Basic Principles

  • Assuming you are not seriously injured, the only two things that will kill you in a short period of time are dehydration and hypothermia. Thus, gear that allows you to have a supply of safe drinking water and stay warm in cold/wet conditions takes priority over all other gear.
  • Hypothermia will kill you in three hours, dehydration in three days, and starvation in three weeks to three months. However, dehydration is the most likely problem you will encounter.
  • Redundancy – have more than one way to satisfy each survival need when possible. Each survival need below will start with the heaviest/slowest/most complex method for satisfying that need, and work down to lighter gear and more desperate measures for satisfying that need. Keep the largest and most complex items in your backpack, and keep the lightest and most desperate in jacket or pants pockets in case you become separated from your pack.
  • Choose the lightest gear you can afford without sacrificing function or comfort.
  • Be realistic about what you need and what you can physically carry. Don’t bring anything (especially if it is heavy) that you don’t absolutely need.

Survival Need: Hydration

Dehydration is the most common cause of death for humans in any survival situation, whether it be in the wilderness or during an emergency or natural disaster. Dehydration can occur in one of three ways: inability to obtain any fresh water, drinking salt water, and drinking too much water containing pathogens that cause some form of illness.

There are a number of ways to obtain and store safe drinking water using gear in your pack.

Collection and Purification

  • Boil water – This will require either a method to start a fire or some form of camp stove. In addition, you will need a container that can be subjected to a flame without losing its integrity.
  • Gravity water filter – Katadyn and other companies make larger gravity-fed water filters that can filter (and store if you are not on the move) gallons of water at a time. These are not an option for quick purification and are best used if you are with a group of people.
  • Pump water filter – MSR, Katadyn, Sawyer, and a few other companies make portable, lightweight pump filters. Many will attach directly to the top of a standard wide mouth Nalgene-style bottle. A pump filter is a great starting point because of the relatively small size and weight and because they can filter modest amounts of water faster than any other option.
  • UV pen – There are a number of UV pens that can kill pathogens in a container of impure water. These are a good backup option, but the main drawback is that they need power to operate.
  • Lifestraw – portable straw that filters water as you suck it directly out of a puddle, stream, or even a container you have with you. This is the easiest and most compact way to drink water immediately and safely. This is a great backup method to any other methods above.
  • Collect rain water – Use a tarp, rain fly, hammock, stuff sack, or any other waterproof or water resistant fabric to collect rain water. You can even use the outer shell of your coat. Some water may escape, but you can collect enough water to survive. Pour water into water bottles, bladders, or any other available containers as it collects.
  • Dig a seep (aka water hole) – Near a body of water or any low, damp area carefully dig a hole as deep as possible until it starts to fill with water. If there is simply no available fresh water nearby, this is an option to obtain water that you can purify. If you have no purification options, the water from a seep is typically safe to drink since the surrounding earth, sand, and clay acts as a natural filter. Just watch out for any signs of animal or human feces nearby that could cause contamination. A seep can be dug by hand, but having a camp shovel, trowel, or even a knife can make the task much easier.


Obvious: Water is heavy. However, it is better to carry extra weight in the form of water than to risk running out if there are few or no options to obtain more

  • Collapsible storage bladders – These can store large amounts of water but are bulky and hard to carry around. They store too much water to realistically carry over any distance.
  • Camelbak-style storage bladders – These can rest or hang inside a sleeve in most modern backpacks. Typically they will be positioned near your back. Most are designed to take quite a beating, so they are a great option and take up the least amount of space given the amount of water they can store.
  • Nalgene-style water bottles – Any water bottle with a wide mouth of standard size is a good option to have in quantity. These often can attach directly to pump water filters, making the filtration process fairly easy. The only drawback is that they cannot collapse when empty.
  • Collapsible water bottles – A number of companies make collapsible water bottles. These are very lightweight and pack down small when empty.
  • Waterproof bags – In a pinch, use a dry bag, dry sack, or any other waterproof container. Any Gore-Tex hat, mitten, or glove can store water if you’re desperate.
  • Natural items – Gourds or any other hollow natural item can store water.

Survival Need: Warmth

After dehydration, hypothermia is the most likely life threatening situation a person can experience. Typically, hypothermia is the result of lengthy immersion in cold water, but it can also be caused by exposure to cold air temperatures. It is important to note that hypothermia can be caused by immersion in water just a few degrees cooler than your body temperature – it will just take all day to occur.

Luckily, there is gear to help keep you warm and to warm you up in the event that your body temperature has dropped.

  • Clothing – Your clothing is the most obvious and easiest line of defense. Modern fabrics not only do a great job trapping and reflecting your own body heat, but they can often keep you warm even if they get wet. Wool will always help keep you warm if it is wet. Layer, layer, layer.
  • Tent – Many modern tents are designed to retain heat in cold conditions. A 3 or 4 season tent will help in cold situations.
  • Sleeping bag – Many sleeping bags are designed to keep you warm in sub-freezing conditions. Use your sleeping bag to help get warm if your body temperature has dropped.
  • Camp stove/heater – If you have your camp stove or portable heater, use those items to help keep you warm. Combined with the next item, a stove or heater can warm you up quickly.
  • Heat reflecting blanket – SOL and other companies make heat reflecting blankets that are a good backup plan in case most of your other gear is wet, damaged, or lost. These can also double as a rain cover/shelter, tent, and sleeping bag. Combine them with a camp stove, heater, or a fire to warm up.
  • Alternative shelter – If your tent is lost or damaged, you can use a tarp, rain fly, heat reflecting blanket, or even a parka as a temporary shelter. Staying dry is the easiest way to stay warm.

Start a Fire

One of the most obvious ways to stay warm is to start a fire. Getting a fire started also helps with two other survival needs: hydration and nutrition. If you can boil water and cook fish, animals, or plants, you stand a chance at surviving for a long time in any situation.

Because most tools for starting a fire are fairly small and lightweight, this is one area where you can have lots of redundancy without adding too much load to your pack.


  • Camp stove fuel – If you have access to your pack and have a camp stove, you likely have some fuel. Use that to help start a fire if it is not pressurized.
  • Premade firestarter/tinder – There are a number of tinder or firestarter options on the market. Use these if you do not have camp stove fuel. Some are just a flammable material (such as lint) soaked in flammable liquids. Others are made of wood shavings and paraffin. Make your own by putting dryer lint in ice cube trays and pouring paraffin or animal fat over it.
  • Natural tinder – In the absence of fuel or premade tinder, birch bark shavings, animal fur, pine needles, and dry leaves make some of the best tinder. Use a knife to create shavings from the inside of the birch bark. Your knife can also be used to make tinder sticks.


  • Torch/lighter – Even if you use some fuel to help get a fire started, you will need a way to light it. The heaviest options are various torches (cigar torches or windproof lighters work well). A regular cigarette lighter works in a pinch, but you can also carry long reach lighters (the type most people use to light candles and grills) for this purpose. Windproof lighters or torches are the most reliable in windy situations.
  • Waterproof matches – There are a number of waterproof match kits available. Typically these come packaged in a watertight plastic box or tube. These are a good backup to any lighter in the event your lighter runs out of fuel or otherwise malfunctions.
  • Flint and steel – There are numerous flint and steel firestarters available. SOL and other companies make standalone flint and steel. In addition, many survival knives will come with a flint that you can strike against the back of the blade to generate sparks.

Survival Need: First Aid

Most injuries are less likely to be life threatening than dehydration or hypothermia, but any injury left untreated can help lead to other complications. There are literally thousands of first aid kits on the market, so there is no shortage of options.

  • Full scale emergency first aid kit – These kits are likely to have waterproof hard-shell cases and include nearly everything but the ambulance. However, they are expensive and typically too heavy to carry, unless your group can split the load for larger items.
  • Waterproof kits – Many companies offer waterproof kits of various degrees of complexity. Newer kits have a case made from Gore-tex or similar materials. Waterproof kits allow items like gauze and bandage packages to stay dry, which will help fight infection when applied to a wound.
  • Non-waterproof kits – If you already have pretty good waterproofing in your backpack or have a dry sack in which to put your kit, you can go a little cheaper and get a non-waterproof kit.

Survival Need: Nutrition

It can take months to die from starvation, but it is important to keep your energy level up in any survival situation. Proper nutrition can help combat the effects of dehydration and hypothermia. Moreover, your cognitive and motor skills suffer when your blood sugar is too low. Being able to start a fire is important, but so is carrying the right gear to prepare and store your food.

  • Cook kit – There are many different cook kits out there, some which include mess kit and utensils in one package. GSI is one of many companies that make excellent, lightweight kits.
  • Utensil kit – GSI and other companies make compact, lightweight kits containing utensils like spatulas and ladles.
  • Mess kit – If your cook kit does not include plates, bowls, and cups, a good mess kit is helpful for eating and storing food you prepare.
  • Heat-insulating gloves or pads – This is an often overlooked item, but when preparing food on a fire, it is helpful to have some way to handle hot pots and pans.
  • Dehydrated food – Carrying at least some dehydrated food is a good way to ensure that you have some balanced meals if more traditional food sources run out. More importantly, they take up relatively little space and weight.
  • Fishing gear – The easiest and most compact solution to obtaining protein is to fish for it. Carry a collapsible fishing pole and minimal tackle. Many survival knives contain some fishing line, hooks, and other basic tackle. Your knife or trowel can be used to dig for worms or peel back bark to find grubs and other insects. Find a dead animal: maggots are an excellent live bait for almost any fish species.
  • Field guide – If you are unable to hunt or fish for food, it is important to know what plants, fungi, and insects are not poisonous. There are numerous field guides on the market that will help you identify safe items to eat.

Other Useful Gear

So far we’ve focused on gear that is critical to survival. We’ll now cover gear that is helpful in all situations, roughly sorted from most important to least important. All of these items can be found in very lightweight versions.

  • Knife – A good knife is one of the most useful tools to have in your pack or kept on your person. Some survival knives have other items attached or enclosed, such as whistles, flint, and fishing tackle.
  • Paracord/rope – Next to a good knife, a length of paracord or rope is one of the best items you can carry with you. You can use it to make temporary shelter out of clothing, tie splints to your leg if you break a bone, create snares and traps to catch small animals, rappel down mountainous terrain, and many other functions.
  • Sunscreen – It is important to avoid sunburn, as it can help accelerate the effects of dehydration and make you physically ill.
  • Insect repellent – Keeping insect bites at bay is obviously important. Carrying at least two types for different situations is a good idea.
  • Whistle – If you get lost or separated from your group, a whistle is one of the best ways to be found or call attention to an emergency.
  • Reflecting mirror – There are many reflecting mirrors on the market for signaling to other people. Some of these can also be used to start a fire.
  • Compass/GPS – Getting lost is the first step in putting yourself in a situation to need to survive. Having a compass and knowing how to navigate can avoid the need for all the other survival gear. A GPS adds even more certainty.
  • Hat – Wide brimmed hats or knit caps are your first line of defense against hypothermia and sunburn.
  • Headlamp – Flashlights are hard to carry and easy to lose in the wilderness, so a good headlamp will give you enough light to prepare camp and get a fire started in the dark.
  • Lightweight/convertible clothing – Clothing was mentioned in the staying warm section, but it bears repeating when thinking about the weight of your gear. Use synthetic or wool fabrics when possible: avoid cotton. Invest in some pairs of lightweight convertible pants. These can change quickly from long pants to shorts. They help save weight by not needing to carrying shorts separately. They dry quickly, which is useful if you have to wade through a stream or lake.
  • Wash kit/lightweight towel – A towel is always a good item to have, but they are typically bulky and heavy (especially wet). Sea to Summit and other companies make compact, quick drying towels. Getting dry is the first step to avoiding hypothermia, so these towels are a key piece of survival gear. Some come with small wash kits, which come in handy if you need to clean a wound.
  • Hatchet/Axe – A good hatchet or axe serves three possible functions. The most obvious is to help cut down/shorten branches or tree trunks for firewood or temporary shelter. If the pommel of the axe has a flat edge, it can be used as a hammer for driving in tent stakes. Lastly, it can serve as a defensive weapon against large animals.
  • Saw – There are many compact saws on the market. These make short work of logs that are 10 inches or less in diameter. It generally requires less effort to make cuts with a saw than a hatchet.
  • Backpack rain cover – If your backpack does not already have a rain cover, there are many covers available. Modern backpacks are usually made of water resistant materials, but your gear will get soaked in a pouring rain.
  • Sleeping pad – This is an important piece of gear because the more comfortable you are, the better you’ll sleep. Most sleeping pads will help you stay warmer by keeping you off the cold ground. This is a piece of gear that varies widely in size and weight.
  • Lantern – Lanterns can vary greatly in size and weight. Black Diamond and other companies make super small and lightweight lanterns.
  • Trekking poles – Having one or two extra feet is very helpful on rugged terrain. A good pair of trekking poles can help prevent injuries such as sprains and broken legs. A trekking pole can double as a fishing pole.
  • Dry bag – Having one or more dry bags in your pack can help ensure that important gear stays dry. You can also use a dry bag to store water.
  • Tarp – A tarp or ground sheet can be used for shelter, to collect rain water, or as a blanket.
  • Hammock – These can be used as a lightweight alternative to tents, sleeping pads, and other standard sleeping gear. In addition, a hammock can be used as a chair, temporary shelter, or to collect rain water.
  • Ditty sacks/pack it cubes – Ditty sacks or packing cubes can help keep the items in your backpack organized. It is far easier to load a backpack when you don’t have to worry about each individual item.
  • Chair/stool – Anytime you can get off the cold ground, it is a good idea. Small comforts can make a big difference.
  • Satellite phone – If the area you are in does not have cell phone coverage, a satellite phone is invaluable.
  • Weather radio – Knowing what the weather conditions are is very important.

Organizing and Loading Your Backpack

Now that you have selected the lightest weight gear possible and ensured some redundancy, it’s time to load your backpack.

  1. Create a checklist that includes all the gear you own. This will ensure you don’t forget to pack something and allow you to make decisions about what gear to omit for shorter or less risky trips.
  2. Lay all gear out on the floor or a table.
  3. Put small items into ditty sacks or packing cubes.

Load your Backpack

  1. Place items that are used least frequently or not until evening toward the bottom.
  2. Place heaviest items (including hydration bladder) in the middle and close to your back. This will allow your body to better control the load while moving.
  3. Place items that are used most frequently toward the top.
  4. If your pack has a sleeping bag compartment, place your sleeping bag and/or any other frequently used, bulky gear in the compartment.
  5. Lash bulky or long items like sleeping pads and trekking poles to the exterior of your pack if they don’t fit inside. Make sure these items are securely attached so they don’t fall off.
Posted in 2ndMost: Outdoors

2016 Fishing Year in Review

Take a look at the 2016 fishing season. This video contains all the fish I got on camera during 2016. It includes trout fishing outings to Lodi Spring Creek, Big Green River, Castle Rock Creek (Fennimore Fork of the Blue River), Black Earth Creek, Kickapoo River, and the Bois Brule River as well as smallmouth bass outings on the Black and Flambeau Rivers.

The video pares down all my footage to only hookup through release. I cut out all the footage of me yakking about fluvial geomorphology and such. Enjoy!

Posted in 2ndMost: Fishing, 2ndMost: Outdoors

An Ode to Bad Two Point Conversion Decisions

Dear Readers:

Mark Dantonio’s decision to go for 2 against Ohio State yesterday was another in a long series of bad 2 point conversion decisions. It was the proverbial straw that inspired me to write a bit about this phenomenon.

Let me first state that most NFL and college coaches are terrible at this particular decision-making data point. It amazes me that, in this age of advanced metrics and years of available statistics, coaches are still making decisions without any actual framework to justify those decisions. What it usually boils down to is that most coaches make decisions that put off losing as long as possible rather than making decisions that will increase their team’s probability of winning decisively.

This is also not a “fire McCarthy” post. I have long been one that criticizes Mike McCarthy’s in-game decision making (2 point conversion decisions, decisions to settle for field goals, terrible challenges), but I have not been one to call for his firing. I am a firm believer in not making such decisions unless one has a better solution. Every better coach already has a job, so firing McCarthy is likely to fall into the “careful what you wish for” category. He does have the second best winning percentage of any active coach – Yes, plenty of that is due to Aaron Rodgers.

That all stated, let’s analyze four 2 point conversion decisions, the first being in the Michigan State-Ohio State game yesterday. The other three are decisions made by Packers head coach Mike McCarthy over the past two seasons.

Ohio State at Michigan State (November 19, 2016)

In this game, Michigan State scored a touchdown that, with an extra point, would have tied the game with about 4:40 left in regulation. Mark Dantonio decided to go for 2 in this situation. When asked about it later, his rationale was that he planned to be aggressive late in the game if the situation arose.

This was way too early to be that aggressive. There are a number factors that play into the pros and cons of going for 2 in this situation, all of which suggest that this was the incorrect decision.

If the Spartans had successfully converted, they would have been up by 1 point with over 4 minutes left in the game. The probability that no more scoring occurs at that point is pretty small. Being up 1 at that point is only meaningful if both teams score field goals or touchdowns in the final 4 minutes. In the case of trading touchdowns, Ohio State would then be forced to go for 2 that late in the game. The larger problem with being up 1 with that much time is that Ohio State’s incentives have changed. If Ohio State is down by 1 instead of tied, they now have incentive to get in position to at least kick a field goal. They are much more likely to go for it on fourth and short to keep a drive alive instead of punting and settling for overtime. Being up by 1 with that much time remaining may not actually improve the Spartans win probability – it may actually decrease it with that much time left.

If the Spartans fail to convert (as they did), they are down 1 in a situation wherein they must either kick away and play defense or try for an onside kick (or inexplicably kick short). If Ohio State gets the ball, they have a decent probability of scoring at least 3 points, which means the Spartans have to score a touchdown to win the game with roughly two minutes or less to play. If Ohio State does not score, they will likely punt the ball and leave the Spartans with (at most) two minutes to get at least a field goal.

This last scenario is exactly what happened. The Spartans had about two minutes to get into field goal range starting from their 25 on the touchback. Gaining roughly 50 yards in two minutes is not all that difficult, but the probability of getting into field goal range AND making the field goal is lower than all of the other scenarios that might have played out by kicking the extra point after the earlier touchdown.

Ultimately, the Spartan 2 point attempt was unsuccessful. One must critique these decisions on their merits rather than the outcome. The outcome was bad, but that does not always mean the decision was incorrect. In this case, the decision was incorrect because of the amount of time left in the game AND the impact of a successful conversion on Ohio State’s incentives. Stated another way, the small upside was greatly outweighed by large and various downsides.

Indianapolis Colts at Green Bay Packers (November 6, 2016)

After the offense struggled most of the game, Aaron Rodgers kicked it into gear late in the 3rd quarter. His touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 7:40 left in regulation brought the score to 31-19. The normally conservative McCarthy decides to go for 2 here. Again, the decision needs to be analyzed without knowing the outcome.

If the Packers kick the extra point, they are down 11 with 7:40 to go. If they manage to prevent the Colts from scoring again (big if), it is still a two possession game. They can try for a 2 point conversion on a subsequent touchdown if it happens and is still necessary.

If the Packers successfully make the conversion, they are now down 10 points with 7:40 to go. They can tie it up with a field goal plus a touchdown and PAT assuming the Colts do not score again. Again, that is a big assumption given the way the game was playing out. It is too early to be worrying about that 1 point when you are already down 12.

Materially, they are in the same position whether they kick the extra point or successfully convert the 2 point play.

However, if the Packers do not convert, they are down 12 points with 7:40 to go. The Packers now have to score at least TWO touchdowns or a touchdown and TWO field goals to tie or take the lead, assuming the Colts do not score again.

The potential downside far outweighs any potential upside.

Ultimately, the decision did not really matter. The Packers never got the chance for a tying or go-ahead score when the Colts ran out the clock on them at the end of the game. They did score another touchdown, after which McCarthy opted for the extra point (to go down 5). Ironically, because of his earlier decision, going for 2 on this second touchdown would have made sense. Being down 5 or 6 is essentially the same, while the potential to be down 4 means an additional touchdown and PAT puts you ahead 3 instead of 1 or 2. That late in the game, you can begin worrying about the costs and benefits of 1 additional point.

Effectively, McCarthy made two probabilistic errors on two point decisions in that game, neither of which actually cost his team the game.

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (October 30, 2016)

McCarthy made another bizarre two point conversion decision in this game. The decision could have cost his team the game, but Rodgers wasn’t able to get the offense into field goal range. The decision was ultimately moot but incorrect nevertheless.

With 3:58 left in regulation, Rodgers hit Janis for a 7 yard touchdown to go up 30-26. McCarthy opted to go for two here. Let’s analyze the decision without knowing the outcome.

If the Packers kick the extra point, they are up 5 points. If Atlanta scores a touchdown on the ensuing drive, they likely try a two point conversion to go up three. However, that attempt may fail. Either way, the Packers can tie with a field goal (if Atlanta tries and makes the two point attempt) or win with a field goal if Atlanta kicks the extra point or fails on a conversion attempt. More importantly, the Packers have forced the Atlanta coaches to make the unenviable decisions and the Atlanta players to execute.

If the Packers go for the two point conversion and make it (which they did), they are now up 6 points. The only way being up 6 rather than 5 helps is if Atlanta happens to score a touchdown and miss their extra point, in which case they are tied with a chance to win with another score. That’s a pretty small probability (unless their kicker is Blair Walsh). They obviously won’t go for two in that situation (as detailed in the previous paragraph). Regardless of outcome here, the Packers still have to kick a field goal to win (or not lose) in regulation.

Again, the downside to this decision is the real problem. If the Packers miss the two point conversion here, they are up only 4 points instead of 5. If the Falcons score again and kick the extra point, the Packers now have to kick a field goal to TIE rather than WIN the game. Obviously the probabilities become muddied after that, assuming the game goes to overtime if the Packers make a field goal.

The decision was incorrect even though they successfully converted. Ultimately, win probability is only slightly higher by kicking the extra point, but slight differences in probability are important.

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals (January 16, 2016)

Plenty has been written about this game. Barnwell’s article on the playoff games that weekend pretty much sums up the argument with more rigorous probabilities, so I won’t go into as much detail here.

The moral of the story is that the Packers had not one, but TWO, Hail Marys on the same drive to be in a position to win or tie the game. That alone should embolden you to go for two in this scenario. Barnwell lays out the probabilities – you’ve got a slightly better probability of winning if you go for two here than if you kick the extra point and go to overtime.

His argument is the correct one – the Packers were clearly the inferior team that day. If you are the inferior team, you have the best chance of winning a shorter game. Going to overtime lengthens the game, thus making it more probable that the better team will ultimately win. That is why the best team usually wins playoff series in all other major professional sports. The worse team can get lucky once or twice, but in the long run the better team wins the series.

McCarthy made some reference to the idea that he thought his team had the momentum. If that is the case, you don’t think Aaron Rodgers, your MVP Super Bowl-winning QB, can get two yards?

The issue here with most coaches, including McCarthy, is that they have NO SYSTEM. They spout off about momentum, being aggressive, etc. But they really have no system in place, except to delay losing as long as possible.



Posted in 2ndMost: Green Bay Packers, 2ndMost: Sports

My Thoughts on Netflix’s Amanda Knox Documentary

Dear Readers:

I just finished watching Netflix’s new documentary Amanda Knox, and I felt compelled to make a few comments on it.

What struck me initially was how similar it was in tone and storytelling methodology to Making a Murderer. Since I did not really follow this case when it was initially taking place (there were much bigger things going on in my life at the time), I was seeing it all with a fresh set of eyes. I was further struck by the similarities of this case to the murder of Teresa Halbach.

In both the Kercher and Halbach murders, there was very little to no physical evidence to tie those convicted to the murders. What evidence existed either did not support the prosecutorial narratives or was obviously tainted and/or found under suspicious circumstances.

The only physical evidence that potentially tied Raffaele Sollecito to the murder of Kercher was found after 47 days. This is a direct parallel to the bullet fragment and key fob found after numerous searches and much time had passed in the Halbach murder investigation. That clasp apparently had the DNA of four other unknown males on it, which means one of three things:

  1. There were multiple assailants who were never found.
  2. It was contaminated by all of the numerous people who were in and out of the crime scene without properly changing gloves or having any protection at all.
  3. Kercher was really not the pristine asexual angel she was portrayed to be and had numerous men in her life who had opportunities to remove or touch her bra, thus adding to the pool of potential murderers with obvious motives such as jealousy and heartbreak.

The other specious piece of physical evidence was the knife that was found at Sollecito’s apartment after many days had passed in the investigation. This apparently had Knox’s DNA on it (big surprise if it is a knife she might have used while it was at his apartment) but also a small trace of Kercher’s DNA on it. On Appeal, it was argued that the sample was so small that it was most likely DNA that ended up on the knife from contamination – shoddy forensic and police procedure. This again was very similar to many of the pieces of evidence in the Halbach case, such as the DNA on the bullet fragment and on the one bone fragment (the only evidence that actually suggests Halbach is, in fact, dead).

The other obvious parallels in the two cases include:

  • False confessions by suspects in the investigation (Knox and Dassey) obtained under obviously coercive and borderline obscene circumstances. These confessions are primarily what lead to the various convictions.
  • Investigators/prosecutors with a stunning amount of certainty in their cases and equally stunning lack of humility.
  • Investigators/prosecutors whose tunnel vision result in a very poorly conducted investigation with little work done to check alibis of all potential suspects or follow all plausible leads.
  • Prosecution of the cases in the media, thus making an impartial jury or courtroom environment virtually impossible.
  • Stunning lack of knowledge or certainty in what actually happened and who really committed the murders.
  • Injustice for both the wrongly convicted AND the murder victims themselves.

I think it is possible that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were involved in the murder, but there is much more than a reasonable doubt. That is exactly my opinion of the Steven Avery conviction. We simply must not reward police and prosecutors for terrible investigatory practices.

The only other major thought I had was about the Daily Mail “journalist” who is interviewed in the documentary. I won’t even bother using his name because he is rightly getting bashed on social media and just about everywhere else. Much of the journalism profession is trying to paint him as an aberration or lowest common denominator of their field. I think most of us realize that, even though he really is the worst kind of slimeball, he really is representative of a profession that has long since surrendered any sense of objectivity and striving for the greater good. I wasn’t shocked by him, and that says it all.

What are your thoughts? “Guilty or Innocent?”

Posted in 2ndMost: Movies and Television, 2ndMost: Pop Culture, 2ndMost: Reviews

Mirror Lake Paddle

On Saturday, September 3, 2016, a group of Madison Area Outdoor Group members joined me for a pleasant day on Mirror Lake in Sauk County, Wisconsin. We covered a lot of ground, including paddling up into Dell Creek under the 23 bridge. I captured this video with my GoPro Hero 4 Session. The group camped at one of the group sites at Mirror Lake State Park.

Posted in 2ndMost: Outdoors, 2ndMost: Paddling

Paddling the Waupaca River

On Saturday, August 20, 2016, a group of Madison Area Outdoor Group members joined me for a pleasant day on the Waupaca River in Waupaca County, Wisconsin. We paddled 7.75 miles from the County Q launch to Brainard’s Bridge Park in Waupaca. The trip took a total of 4 hours, which included about a half hour snack stop at the covered bridge. I managed to go for a swim in the last set of pitches before the take out. Water levels were a little above average, which made for a slightly less technical paddle through the limited whitewater on the trip. Below is a 10 second time-lapse I captured with my GoPro Hero 4 Session.

Posted in 2ndMost: Outdoors, 2ndMost: Paddling

The Colin Kaepernick National Anthem Debate

Dear Readers:

I finally decided to weigh in on the maelstrom surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the National Anthem at last week’s preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. This is my attempt to purge it from my system so I can cease letting myself be annoyed by the situation and attention it is being given. Before you start, I am keenly aware of the irony.

To wit:

Colin Kaepernick has every right to protest what he views as systemic injustices in any way he pleases so long as he doesn’t physically hurt anyone. However, the rest of us have the right to view him as a hypocritical douchebag and ignore his message because of the ham-handed way it was presented. Our flag and the blood spilled on its behalf impart these rights to us.

If one claims that the United States and its flag are responsible for the systemic oppression of people of color while making $19 million per year under the protection of that nation and its flag, one surrenders the right to be taken seriously. One looks like a dilettante at best and an ill-informed idiot at worst.

Prima facie, the charge is mostly untrue. Has extensive systemic oppression, racism, and inequity existed in the past? Yes. Does some of it still exist today? Yes. However, I invite Kaepernick to go play for the NFL in Uganda, Syria, Iran, or Turkey. I invite him to enjoy all the freedoms enjoyed by inhabitants of those countries. Silly me, I forgot. They don’t have professional sports teams. In fact, in some of those countries, you get your hand cut off because touching the skin of a pig is a crime. You’ll get a good workout dodging the gas shells being lobbed by the Syrian military against its rebels (and little kids). Maybe Erdogan won’t decide to put you in jail. You know, just because it’s Tuesday. Try having some real problems. We are far from perfect. But we don’t have to be remotely close to perfect to have the best system in the world.

Many pundits in both sports talk radio and politics have weighed in to express dismay at the form of the protest but supported him overall because he has “sparked a conversation” about these issues. But has he really? If you ask me, he has set any conversation about race, injustice, and oppression back significantly. Nobody is actually talking about these issues just because of his actions. They are simply talking about the implications his actions will have on the debate itself, the NFL, the 49ers, and his career. No high-minded conversation has been started because he refused to stand. If anything, he has given actual racists ammunition and validation for their views.

Moreover, was there a lack of debate and conversation on the topics of systemic oppression, racial injustice, and criminal justice inequities this year? Did I miss something? Have these topics not been at the forefront of our national discussion for about two years now, dating back to the Zimmerman trial? Have we all suddenly discovered our national voice because Colin Kaepernick decided to weigh in? Thank God we have him as our moral compass. I guess he got bored kissing his biceps and using the N word during games.

Another view that has been expressed is that one is a hypocrite if they supported Muhammad Ali’s outspoken nature but are opposed to Kaepernick’s protest. That is just intellectually lazy. Ali usually spoke out about very specific situations and had facts to back up his views. Kaepernick painted with a very broad, diluted brush in his comments. It’s easy to spout off about vague notions of oppression. I want to hear him actually discuss real issues, not narratively incorrect straw men. If you are worried about cops killing black men, for example, how about some equal indignation over the far higher rate at which black men kill each other. Failure to bring up specifics makes him no better than the worst race-baiting politicians.

In addition to the strategically ineffective nature of the protest, refusing to stand and show respect for the flag during the National Anthem is tactically counterproductive when those in uniform (and those with utmost respect for those in uniform) represent a large share of the NFL’s fan base. Kaepernick has stated that his protest was not meant to mean any disrespect for our veterans and others who have served our country. What he and others fail to grasp is that for many of these veterans, police officers, and others who have served, disrespect for one IS disrespect for the other. One cannot separate the two in the minds of many. We can debate whether demonstrations of allegiance or piety should be compulsory or encouraged. What we cannot do is expect those who have served to just turn a blind eye to disrespect of the very institutions and symbols they shed blood to protect. I think most veterans will agree that it is his right to do so, but that still doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.

Personally, I couldn’t care less what any sports figure thinks about anything. Athletes are no more an authority on world affairs than any Hollywood celebrity. I watch sports as an escape FROM precisely this sort of debate and stress. If listening to sports talk is no different than listening to political talk, I am part of the group that will tune out. My love of the Green Bay Packers unites me with many people with whom I disagree politically. It’s nice to set aside our political or personal differences for that 3 hours every Sunday and root for the same outcome. I have the rest of the week to mix it up about the really important domestic and international issues we face.

PSA: Kindly remove your hat during the Anthem.

One last thought about this mess: I have read or heard comments disparaging Kaepernick from people who have been at graduation ceremonies I also attended. These people were among the overwhelming majority (like 95% or more) who did not remove their mortarboards during the National Anthem. The only headwear that should not be removed during the Anthem is a military cover while saluting the flag. That a mortarboard is a pain in the ass to put back on is not an excuse to avoid showing respect. I see plenty of people at sporting events not remove their hats and caps, too. So let’s be a bit careful throwing stones if we live in a glass house, people.


Posted in 2ndMost: Green Bay Packers, 2ndMost: Politics, 2ndMost: Pop Culture, 2ndMost: Rants, 2ndMost: Sports

Analysis of Federal Relief of Dassey’s Habeas Petition

Dear Readers:

This past week was quite a week in the legal world. No sooner had I (finally) posted my take on Making a Murderer and the Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey cases than U.S Magistrate Judge William Duffin had granted Dassey’s habeas petition. The news dropped while I was having drinks with my brothers-in-law prior to my stepsister’s wedding rehearsal dinner.  I was a bit shocked it was actually granted given the obtuse nature of the state courts’ handling of the case at every level and the fact that habeas petitions are only successful about 1% of the time.

Before turning in Friday night, I found the decision and order in its entirety and read through all 91 pages (find the document here). This document was a pleasure to read. I laughed out loud a few times. The judge shows proper respect to all parties involved and does not assign ill intent, yet he manages to eloquently spank just about everyone. Those familiar with legal language will recognize how forceful some of these rebukes are.

The first 43 pages are not necessary reading unless you have no prior or extensive knowledge of the case – it is just briefing material. Page 44 is where the important information begins. There, the judge begins to lay out the framework for how a decision could be reached. He cites the relevant framework, noting that applicable federal laws and Supreme Court decisions make granting of habeas relief a very rare occurrence. Essentially, the judge points out that habeas relief may only be granted in two instances:

  1. The state courts essentially failed to follow the U.S. Constitution, existing federal law, and U.S. Supreme Court precedent when ruling on a case.
  2. The state court decisions, while following existing federal precedent, failed to make reasonable determinations about the facts in light of that precedent.

To further simplify: the state courts either violated federal law and the constitution or came to objectively unreasonable decisions given the facts of the case.

The judge lays out why habeas relief is so difficult to obtain. It may not be granted just because the federal courts disagree with a decision. It may not be granted due to minor errors or procedural issues – essentially providing great deference to appellate courts. It may not be granted just because public opinion favors it.

Quoting from page 47, he cites the following (emphasis is mine):

“Federal habeas review thus exists as ‘a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.’” Id.(quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 102-03).

Remember that phrase: “extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems.” That will be important.

The judge next lays out Dassey’s claims for relief. The two claims are:

  1. He was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of council.
  2. His March 1, 2006 confession was involuntary and a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights.

Ineffective assistance of council

The judge covers this claim in detail, but the important points are easily lost in the language. Essentially, the judge refuses relief under this claim for two reasons:

  1. The request for relief cites the Sullivan decision rather than the Strickland decision, thus allowing a more forgiving standard for attorney conduct (less likely to result in relief).
  2. The state appellate court’s decision was not technically incorrect under the Strickland standard (which was cited on appeal).

More simply, had Dassey’s appellate attorneys cited Strickland instead of Sullivan and operated under that framework, relief might have been possible. This is a bit like my favorite saying about computers: Computers do what you tell them to do, not want to you want them to do. The court won’t just make that leap of logic for you. This was a tactical error by Dassey’s appellate attorneys in crafting the writ. The judge gently chides them for not citing the relevant case.

So there will be no relief granted under this claim, but the judge has many things to say about Dassey’s representation, summed up by the following from page 50 (emphasis is mine):

Although it probably does not need to be stated, it will be: Kachinsky’s conduct was inexcusable both tactically and ethically. It is one thing for an attorney to point out to a client how deep of a hole the client is in. But to assist the prosecution in digging that hole deeper is an affront to the principles of justice that underlie a defense attorney’s vital role in the adversarial system.

“Them’s is fightin’ words!” That is some pretty incendiary language given the overall eloquence and deference the judge demonstrates in his prose. He acknowledges how egregious this is, but ultimately that alone is not enough to grant relief.

Involuntariness of confession

The judge then moves on to address the second claim for relief on page 60. The claim is that Dassey’s confession was involuntary under the Fifth Amendment, federal law, and Supreme Court precedent. The judge lays out how he understands the Wisconsin appellate court decision that refused to overturn the conviction. He then discusses the interrogation in great detail. He then cites relevant cases and why or why not relief was granted.

As previously mentioned, he discusses the actual interrogation in exhaustive detail. I think that part of the document rises to a crescendo when discussing Wiegert’s statement that “honesty is the only thing that will set you free.” To those of us with normal faculties and understanding of idiomatic language and pop culture, this statement is innocuous because we recognize it to be a cliche. But, the judge writes on page 82:

And, especially relevant here, testing revealed that idioms were an aspect of abstract language that Dassey had difficulty understanding.

The judge argues that, when one combines Dassey’s limitations with the nature of the interrogation (“totality of the circumstances”), the entirety of the confession was clearly involuntary under all applicable federal standards and, more importantly, common sense and reason.

In short, he acknowledges that the appellate court’s decision was not incorrect if one takes any individual part of the federal standards for voluntary confessions into account. Any one statement in isolation does not imply coercion. However, he takes issue with the kind of tunnel-vision and cherry-picking used in reaching that decision.

Thus, the judge grants relief on the basis that the appellate court was unreasonable in finding of fact pursuant to federal precedent. While being careful to show all due deference to the state courts, he writes the following on page 89:

Once considered in this proper light, the conclusion that Dassey’s statement was involuntary under the totality of the circumstances is not one about which “fairminded jurists could disagree.”

That is a British Questions for Parliament-style smackdown. He basically states that the state appellate court was both incorrect AND unreasonable in ruling that the confession was voluntary. That jibes with what anyone who watched any part of it in Making a Murderer or elsewhere concluded.

The salient sentence in granting relief is as follows on page 88:

While the circumstances for relief may be rare, even extraordinary, it is the conclusion of the court that this case represents the sort of “extreme malfunction[] in the state criminal justice system[]” that federal habeas corpus relief exists to correct.

Whoa, baby. I think that one is pretty clear, and I told you it would be important above. Ultimately, the judge grants relief while also mentioning that he does not “ascribe any ill motive to the investigators.” (page 88) He walks the line between stern rebuke and respectful deference at all times, which is no easy task.

The actual order details that Dassey is to be released within 90 days unless the State appeals the grant or makes the decision to retry the case. One hopes that the State is smart enough to take its chips and walk away from the table. Nothing good can come from retrying this case in the wake of the sheer ubiquity of people’s knowledge of it. It will be impossible to get an impartial jury at this point regardless of the other tactical issues involved.

So that’s it. We’ll keep an eye on the case. What do you think? Does the judge’s decision make sense to you?

Posted in 2ndMost: Movies and Television, 2ndMost: Politics, 2ndMost: Pop Culture

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A Blog Spanning Politics, Economics, Sports, Movies and Television, Pop Culture, the Outdoors, Food, Product Reviews, and the Occasional Rant.

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