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TL/DR summary - Tough construction, a built in pillow, light and compact to pack - the Nemo Cosmo Insulated Lite sleeping pad is a winner in my book.

So, once your tent is set up, what is going to keep you insulated and warm during the temperature drop at nighttime in the mountains?

*cue the Jeopardy theme music*

A sleeping bag? Thick, warm clothing? Those are important, but it's been my experience that keeping a nice chunk of insulation between you and the cold, hard ground is The best way to guarantee a warm night's rest. Everything else is also important, but without a sleeping pad of some kind, you probably aren't going to sleep soundly. Now, knowing this, you would think that I probably took a long time deciding on which sleeping pad I was going to go with. Dear reader, you are indeed correct.

Nemo Cosmo Sleeping pad

I pored over the online resources, searching through all the reviews, reading forums, and in the end, I went with my gut. I chose the Nemo pad because I wanted to have the comfort of an air mattress - some of you just snorted your drink at that statement - with the additional insulation that design can provide. Now, if you've spent the night on the pool floatie style air mattresses before, it most likely wasn't that great. The long vertical construction of the baffles (the bladders that hold air) means that traditionally styled air mattresses tend to fold up around you as you lie on them. I never knew how much I loathed that until I bought the Nemo Cosmo Insulated Lite.

I got the 20R version, which means that it's 'regular' length, plenty for my 5'10" height to stretch out on comfortably. The baffles on the Nemo models are horizontal, which means they offer increased support and stay flat on the ground rather than curling upwards. The insulation was a must, because I knew I would be sleeping at altitude in lake basin areas where cold air would pool during the night. I tend to sleep cold anyway, so getting a sleeping pad like this gave me peace of mind that I would have a solid foundation on my way to a great night's sleep in the woods.

The mattress comes with a pack sack that collapses down to a size a little bigger than your two fists stacked on top of each other. The worst part about this mattress is having to blow it up at the end of the day, but it's not that bad. When you float comfortably above all the twigs and rocks that you were too tired to sweep out from under your tent, you'll realize it was totally worth huffing a puffing for a couple minutes. You can use the built in foot pump at the base of the mattress, but I never did.

Tough construction, a built in pillow, light and compact to pack - the Nemo Cosmo Lite sleeping pad is a winner in my book.

 

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Sleet dribbles steadily from a glowering sky, the last vestiges of Winter returning to haunt us. To prove it, thick wet flakes fell earlier in the morn, managing to stick just enough. Parked cars now sported frozen, sloughing calluses of ice from windshields and hoods. My feet are cold, and the sleet’s windblown patter skitters across the roads, freezing and melting by turns.

But now the central heating kicks on. Ah, isn’t living in this time and place so grand sometimes?

No, today I am not crazy enough to go brave the cold and nasty to catch more pike. I have caught them, and walleye, though little else. I tried for smallmouth last week, but… I’m getting ahead of myself.

I have much to catch you up on, dear reader, so off we go.

My arrival in North Dakota you’ve already seen, culminating a grand journey through the plains which allowed me to see and enjoy country that I’d never been to, as well as savor the parts that I knew and loved.

But once I got here, then what happened? Well, of course I immediately tried to start finding places to fish. I was hungry to catch a northern pike. The only issue was that Nature hadn’t caught up with me yet. The ice was still on the lakes, and fish were, for the most part, inaccessible to fly fishermen.

I scouted out a couple local dam tailraces that were clear of ice, but the flows were extremely low and locals had fished those areas hard all winter. I had no recourse but to be patient while Spring got things kickstarted, opening the lakes up and getting the fish thinking amorously. The pike spawn soon after iceout, and then linger in the steadily warming shallow bays and wait for other fish to move shallow.

I knew that, and I went looking. I focused on shallow water, especially edges thick with cattails and brush. I got hung up enough that I started tying big flashy bendbacks to slither through the sticks.

Finally, after a couple of weeks of searching, I hook a stick that wasn’t a stick. Fish on!... off. Though I had lost the first one, I felt triumphant. The next sunny afternoon, I went back.

Working the edge of the marshy slough, I moved down the bank towards a fishy looking clump of timber. Probing casts hit every likely pike lair, but no strikes. Somewhat perplexed, I started to move on down the bank. Out in the open water past the trees, I got my first solid jolt - hooked up! A few moments later, I said hello to my first northern on fly. I was stoked.

First pike on fly!
First pike on fly!

 

Their tails are beautiful.
Their tails are beautiful.

Hard work, research, planning and execution... plus a good dollop of that secret sauce, luck. I'll take it! 

1

Flyfishermen are an introspective bunch, tending to philosophize a little more than our other fishing brethren. We like to catch big fish and high five about it, but we also like to talk about WHY we fish. I figure that is mostly because it's something we ask ourselves often as we are picking another tangle out, or standing waist deep in frigid and/or shark infested water.

That being said, there are also physical and mental attributes that make a fly fisherman respected among his peers. A few days ago I read a post on Chi Wulff where a list of "reasonable fly fisher skills" for his area was laid out. I thought it was well done and it got me to thinking about what would pass for a good list in my area. Saltwater fly fishers have to deal with a different set of obstacles than coldwater fisherman, arguably separate but equal.

At any rate, I started thinking about what made a respectable salty fly guy/gal, and started asking a few of my more crusty friends for some input. Some were more tongue-in-cheek than others. This is a shortened list of what we came up with

  • Tell by looking out at the roadside palm trees in the glow of the streetlight roughly how fast the wind is blowing.
  • Be able to tell the difference between the wake pushed by a mullet and that of a redfish or black drum.
  • Know that terns always lie, but gulls can lead you to treasure.
  • Be able to filter the sounds of jumping mullet from the sounds of bait being crashed.
  • Fully load the vehicle and have kayak strapped on top, in the dark, in ten minutes.
  • Spot a tailing redfish from over two hundred yards on a good day, from over 50 on a bad one.
  • Knows where the most sheltered spots are to get away from the wind, but generally only fishes those on days over 20kts.
  • Must be able to two-handed strip at warp speed to trigger mackerel and other pelagic species.
  • Must be as comfortable laying in a back cast as a forward cast on target.
  • Be able to maintain relative composure as a fish bigger than your duck dog approaches your fly.
  • Not locking up when a red/bone/permit/tarpon suddenly appears less than 30' from the boat.
  • Effectively pole a boat with and into the wind all day, positioning the caster for best shot on fish.
  • Know how to interpret tide chart and mentally calculate the difference in water movement for local area you plan to fish.
  • Navigate labyrinth marsh and marl while neither running aground or putting others in danger.
  • Be able to wade with ninja-like stealth while avoiding the mine field of oyster shell and stingrays.
  • Turn over a fly at 60' into a 20kt wind.
  •  Cannot drive by hobby stores without wondering if they might have gotten any new foam or tinsel in...
  • Willing to endure withering wind and endless staring at empty water to hook the silver king from the granite of the jetty.

When rigging for the flats, it’s more a question of knowing how to deal with the current situation than anything else. For many flats fly fishers, the prepackaged tapered leaders made by many manufacturers are their go-to, and that often works just fine. They're hard to beat for convenience.

Personally I like to make my own leaders, mostly because I think I can do it just as well for less cost. Like most guys that roll their own leaders, I like to start with a heavy butt section. This allows for efficient transfer of energy from the flyline to the leader. I generally go with a 30-20-12 progression in pound test if I am expecting to be casting to tailing or cruising fish (reds, drum, trout) on the flat.

The typical leader I will use on the flats is around 9-10', but I have gone up to 14-15' in super clear water. Longer leaders/tippets become necessary on highly spooky/pressured fish, or when hunting the big sow speckled trout that will prowl the shallows from time to time. Windy conditions call for shorter, stouter leaders; something like an 8-9' leader of 50-30-20 or 40-20. When facing windy conditions, the heavier tippet turns over bulky, air-resistant flies a little better and can withstand the occasional windknot. This same configuration is what I will use when I am searching for fish with topwaters or sliders - the more casts you make, the more likely that you will eventually put a windknot in the line.The last thing you want to do is come tight on a good red after a crashing eat and have that tippet pop - ping! Don' ask me how I know this.

When I'm actually walking the flats, I will generally carry a small roll of 12-14lb tippet material, in case I need to refresh my tippet or I have some sort of catastrophic failure happen to my leader. Being unprepared for that when you're several hundred yards from the boat or truck is not something that you want to do to yourself. Don't ask me how I know. Just trust me when I say:

Fortune favors the prepared.

 

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