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Old 11-01-2015, 07:25 PM
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Default Fighting & Landing Big Fish;

Warning, this is long with no pictures. I have tried to explain how I have landed many large fish but I may need to edit this after it is posted. I hope it is helpful in some of what it says.


This article is being posted into the Spey Fishing section of the forum because I have been using the 2 handed rods exclusively now for 6 full seasons to catch all fish. The species range from small grayling to some very good sized salmon but the content of this piece will be focused on landing fish between 8 and 45 pounds. The same techniques I will attempt to outline here are applicable to your use of single hand rods also, I have used this forum because I haven't landed a big fish on a single hand rod for 4 or 5 years I forget which. That landing occurred while trout fishing a small stream and getting hooked to a silver salmon of about 6.5 pounds, I was using a 6'6" three weight bamboo flea rod at the time....... The rod is fine and the fish was released unharmed.

I'm going to try explaining something based on what I've experienced regarding getting a big fish to shore or the net. So we're going to look at what can happen from the moment you realize you have a fish hooked to the point when you are considering taking a photograph of it.

Before and after I began working as a fishing guide I have fished with a number of other people. I am convinced that when a truly large fish is hooked up and decides to do a little more than be reeled in like a slab of driftwood there are 2 ways the fish get landed, one way is a skillset developed by the angler and the other involves a good deal of luck. The luck factor comes into play with 100% of hookup to landing scenarios because the unknown factor is whether or not the hook is planted firm and deep in tissue that won't give way. So with that understood I'll keep talking about this.

Since this is being written on October 30th it is unlikely that many of you will be able to try one of my see for yourself experiments until warm weather comes to your area again. Now this experiment may seem strange but there is a point to it and what can be proven is directly related to landing big strong fish. What I'm going to describe, I have done and so can assure you of what you'll find if you do this yourself. If you were to wade out into a river or to use a swimming pool, both will work to prove this point. Find yourself in about 4 1/2 feet of water and extend your arm & hand with your hand perpendicular to the water. Now with the arm extended and your hand just under the surface make a sweeping motion of 90* and feel the level of resistance to your motion. Speeding up this motion will increase the resistance because you are trying to push water which is way heavier than air. Now that you have a sense of the amount of weight / resistance the water produces at a depth of roughly 6 inches take a deep breath and submerge yourself. Did I mention not to wear waders for this? So submerge and exhale enough air so that you can sit with your butt on the bottom. This position will put your shoulder approximately 2 1/2 feet off the bottom and about 2 feet deep from the surface. From this position you extend the arm and with the hand perpendicular to the bottom try to replicate the sweeping action you preformed while standing and just below the surface. You will find that it takes a whole lot more energy to make the motion at the same speed as you can right at the surface. At just 2 feet of depth there is more density to the water. Furthermore when you sweep the arm the water doesn't bulge up and break the surface tension and so there is considerable more resistance at greater depths. Hopefully this will begin to make sense as I begin to talk about what I think is happening while a fish is trying to fight against the pressure you are applying to the hook via the rod and line that are attached to that hook.

As many readers know I fish with streamers and various styles of salmon flies all the time. The flies range in size and style from standard salmon and trout patterns on size 4 - 8 hooks and include both tube flies and shank tied patterns with a #6 Owner hook trailing the shank. All my flies are single hook patterns although I did successfully use some double hook salmon flies this year for silvers. I think that explaining what it is that I'm sticking in a fishes jaw is important so the reader can consider what it is they are hooking up with for sake of comparison. I am also seldom using a leader tippet lighter than 16 pound fluorocarbon or at the very lightest 15 pound Maxima Ultra Green mono. Because of the leader strength I am not usually the victim of a broken connection, if there is a failure it is generally because the hook just lost its hold and the fish is gone.

Let us say that you are fishing away and the morning hasn't been too productive but you continue to cast your fly onto the water and mend as you control the depth and speed of the fly as it makes the swing down and across the channel. All of a sudden it happens, it may be a series of taps followed by a substantial pull or it may be an all out whack followed by the sensation of weight on the line. Even though this is why you fish, even though this is what you always wanted it often comes as a surprise when you wake up to find that you're hooked to something bigger than ever before. How you react to a series of taps on a swinging fly can mean the difference between having a chance and what you will describe as "missing a fish". I have found that whether I'm fishing for trout or salmon it is always best to do nothing when you feel that tap tap tap on the end of your line. If the fish does not manage to get the point of the hook stuck into itself and you find there is nothing attached to your line even after a series of good hard taps there is no harm done and you still have a chance. If you react to a tap by whipping the rod tip back or up you stand a good chance of pricking but not hooking the fish. At the very least you may succeed at frightening the fish that was testing that fly to see what the heck it was. So let's first determine that the best way to get started in hooking a big fish is to let the fish do 75% of the job by itself OK?

So there have been a series of taps followed by the weight on the line, now what? Do you whip the rod back or up? It seems that only multiple experiences can teach proper reactions unless you have the advantage of someone giving you detailed instructions about how you might try to react. That's what I'm doing here, trying to provide something for you to store in memory and retrieve when your moment of truth come and believe me, if you fish long enough it's coming. Before going on to describe what happens once hooked up let me tell you what I think happens when you learn not to react when a fish is playing at the fly. If the fish doesn't feel the hook point or even if it does, as long as you don't rip it away the fish usually remains interested enough to chase it again. When this happens you have what we call the comeback fish and many times you end up catching them. If you react and prick or scare them they won't look at that fly again no matter what kingd of nippers you own

OK, the fish is there. What I do is to point the rod tip at the area where the fly and fish are at but I keep it at a slight angle raised angle that is, and I pull the line tight with my free / line hand. Once the line is tight and the fish still there it's time for a more energetic tug. This tug is an effort to drive the hook point home into a solid area. This results in either pulling it free or a much better hook set. If it comes loose you did the best you could. You didn't strike too soon, you waited and you attempted a very premeditated maneuver in driving the hook deep. Much better to have one come lose at this time than after a 5 minute struggle as you try to bring the fish in.

So what was all that business about water resistance about? All this wasted text about hooking a fish? I'm just trying to be thorough here so I'm covering as many things that can go wrong as possible. Let's say that it is hooked and hooked pretty well and get on with this. What next? Do you give him the make it or break it pressure from rod reel and line? I used to do that but evolved quite a bit. Now when I know there's a good one hooked I would prefer that the fish relax and not panic it by applying too much pressure. Now that may seem strange to you but I find that if you keep the ling just barely tight the fish will in many cases just try to swim back to where it was before it got that nasty hook in it. Now this may sound as if it runs against common wisdom because I'm saying that you should not be applying a lot of rod pressure and trying to bring the fish toward you. Once you have things under control there'll be plenty of rod pressure used and you will be trying to bring that fish to you but sometimes early on it's better if the fish doesn't panic and go running out of your area. A truly large fish can do just that and can do it quickly so I try to keep them calm and under control. They all can act differently when hooked, some will beach themselves and others will hunker on the bottom. Some will make a fast run downstream and others upstream. Then there's the fish that just goes airborne right off the bat, these are sometimes the ones that come loose quickly but some remain hooked throughout the jumping actions.

Each of the scenarios I mentioned require a different reaction from the angler if you want to try to remain in control of the outcome. Because of my acting as a guide I've fished with quite a few different anglers over the past 4 years. Some of them were willing to take advice on what to do when the big one was hooked up and others were set in their ways and wanted no pointers. I'm not saying that my ways are correct but because of my living and fishing year after year in an area where I catch a lot of fish between 8 and 40 pounds I have learned a few things. One thing I avoid is the high rod position. I was able to study the effects of this technique because I fished with a fellow who handled every fish with the same system. Once the fish was hooked the rod was kept directly in front of the angler with the tip almost straight up. Many fish came unhooked before we were able to net them. What I was seeing was that whenever the fish was being reeled in the rapid motions of cranking the reel were being transmitted up the 14' long rod shaft to its tip. The result was that the tip was wobbling rapidly in a side to side motion. That motion was transmitted down the line to where it contacted with the surface. Now stop and picture this if you will. Rod high, tip shaking hard enough that the line is dancing wildly right to the surface and the fish is just under the surface. I think that all that motion was helping to free the hooks from wherever they were planted on the fish that got away.

Remember all that talk about sweeping your arm at the surface verses a few feet deep? I'm about to talk about that now. There's a time to take the rod high but most of the time you want it low. When a big fish is several feet deep in a current it can seem that it is applying enough pressure to break a 15 pound leader and to an extent it is. However it is the depth that is making it so hard to pull or move that fish and not just the fish itself.

Lifting and sliding a big one.............

When one is staying deep on you it's time to crank up any and all slack with your rod low and in a position that is applying a side pull against the fish. Once that line is tight it is time to extend the rod and point it right at the fish, now is the time to lift that fish to the surface. Lift with your arms and rod tip and bring it toward the surface. As you lift it high in the water column you now need to continue to crank up any slack. Now you are attempting to lift the fish right up to the surface where there is very little water resistance to aid it in the attempt to hold back against the pressure you are applying. When that fish is at the surface it's time to quickly drop the rod tip and crank up the slack created by this rapid change of angles between tip and fish. With the rod low you pull hard sideways and when you reach the point where the rod is extending behind you and you can no longer continue pulling you work that reel as fast as you can but you keep that line tight and the rod low to avoid that dancing line effect that I mentioned earlier. This is the simple pump and reel technique but I think of it as the slide. While the fish is right on the surface you can move a really big one a whole lot easier than when it's 2 or more feet deep. You need to focus on the direction of the head and try to turn that head toward you and shore. If at any point while you are doing this you end up with the fish coming at you head first and right at the surface it's time to move!

There are no guarantees of what will happen when you lift one, sometimes they just lay there at the surface other times they bolt. I have found that some fish need to be taken through this stage of the landing process several times before you have full control. For the sake of finishing up let's assume it does not bolt but has allowed you to turn it right at you and now it can be brought toward shore.

With a big fish coming toward shore head first and right at the surface you need to continue reeling with the rod pointed at the fish but the tip elevated enough to absorb any sudden change in the fishes behavior. If you have sufficient landscape to your rear you can end the fight at this point. Keep going back away from the water, now raise the rod tip to keep the fishes head elevated and keep it coming forward. They can not swim backward very well at all and at this stage you can bring the fish in until it is at the shoreline. If you get the fish on the shore line it's time to put the rod down preferably lean it against bushes or the like and run like hell to catch that fish by the tail. Once you have control of the tail place the other hand cupped in front of the nose and you have it done.

This can become a lot more hectic if you have a net and intend to use it alone. Unless you are accustomed to handling a rod - reel and a net all at the same moment you have the fish of a lifetime close to shore I don't recommend trying to use the net. After you have done what the preceding paragraph lines out to you, you are free to get hold of your net and use it to safely and humanely contain the fish while you figure out how to get a photo of it.

Whenever you are fishing where there is a realistic chance of hooking into a ten pound or larger fish you should take time to study both the river currents and the surrounding shoreline before you begin trying to hook that fish. Know where there are soft water spots along shore both upstream and down from where you are casting from. When the fish is hooked your job is to try leading it toward these landing zones prior to the lifting and sliding the fish towards shore. Having some sort of a plan of action before you have a giant hooked up is well worth the few seconds taken to think things over. I usually either leave my net laying right on the shoreline so during the landing process I can snatch it up and toss it in the direction where I figure I'll land the fish.

Finding big fish can be a hit of miss thing many days but when you do you need to use each occurrence as a learning / training opportunity. Landing big ones is like many other learned skills practice makes for better results so even though you are catching 12 - 16 inch trout you should handle each one as if it were a 13 pound monster. Try the lift and slide. Figure out how best to keep every stage of the encounter from the fish grabbing the fly to you removing the hook under control. I learned how to fish in Pennsylvania then I took what I learned and fished all over the country. The next thing I went after was bigger fish and salmon offered that chance. First it was Landlocked Atlantic's in Northern Maine and from there to Newfoundland for the real thing. Next came those Great Lakes transplants and by 1989 Alaskan Kings. I lost plenty, I hooked more and tried to use whatever seemed to have worked previously to help get the next fish to the net or shore. In Late 2004 I came here and have been home ever since. Living here year round gave me the chance to hook as many as 30 big fish in a day and with those numbers you learn what works and what doesn't.

The lift and slide are my principle weapons. Keeping a fish calm while I work it into position to lift it is important. If it runs I don't try to stop them unless it is imperative to do so. When the run slows I try to lead the fish while allowing it to come back toward where it was prior to being hooked. I don't know if any of this will make sense to readers but I've tried not to wander too much as I typed out my memory on how it is done.

Ard
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Last edited by Ard Stetts; 11-05-2015 at 05:35 PM. Reason: Adjust Title
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Old 11-02-2015, 03:00 PM
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Default Re: Landing Big Fish;

Great post Ard that will come in handy since I never take a net fishing the shores of Lake Superior. Emil
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Old 11-02-2015, 06:22 PM
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Default Re: Landing Big Fish;

Hi Emil,

I haven't read through that since writing but I will. Whenever you are trying to put an action that contains so many intrinsic possibilities it's hard not to wander as you write. What I can cherry pick from the entire thing is that after a fish has been on for a while lifting it to the surface and then turning it toward you is the best move a person can make. Yes, some come unhooked but the more you do it the better you get. The only well hooked fish I lost this past season was a chum that I brought in way too soon. They were fresh from the ocean still with sea lice and they were strong. There were fresh silvers in the same run so I was looking to get the chum in - get my fly out and get back after the silvers. When the fish got into 4" of water it went bonkers and the fly popped out on its own.
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Old 11-02-2015, 09:29 PM
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Default Re: Landing Big Fish;

That's some good advice you've thrown out there Ard. It sounds like I employ much of the same technique. Ultimately there is no substitute for practice, and we are lucky enough to live in a land where we can get plenty of it. It was a real eye opener when I hooked into a 40lb King on Willow Creek in my first summer here. To say I was schooled would be an understatement.
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Old 11-02-2015, 09:41 PM
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Default Re: Landing Big Fish;

Excellent post Ard. I agree with your recommendations, especially your point about luck. Every time I land a big fish (salmon or steelhead) by myself I feel like it's always partly intuition and freaky luck.

Scott
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Old 11-03-2015, 09:21 PM
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Default Re: Landing Big Fish;

Those giant fish like the king you are talking about are an example of the situations where you want the fish to remain calm after you have a hook in it. Big ones like that can take a long time off the clock before you have them in hand but they usually are not struggling the entire time. I landed the fishes below this year using an 11'6" Hardy Swift in 7 weight. The red one came in early June and I was pretty surprised by the amount of color in the fish at that early date.

Click the image to open in full size.

That's all I got for a picture, that and one of his head underwater. It was a male and no way to get the whole fish in a shot alone. Get this, I carried a salmon net downstream with me when he decided to leave the run. I got him in 3 times before I finally got the net under him on the 4th try. Each time I had him into soft water he just swam away and turned downstream again. It took so long to catch him that Boss thought we were going to walk home and leave the boat behind.

This one was easy with someone on the net and camera. The big red one would have made 2 of these.

Click the image to open in full size.

I'm going to write a thread called 'The Art Of The Net' to describe how you might avoid trouble at the moment of truth.

Ard
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Old 11-04-2015, 08:15 PM
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Default Re: Landing Big Fish;

Thanks for the thread Ard, some things I do similarly and some not I haven't had time to read and think about your writings yet as I'm scrambling to get out deer hunting. But I will.


I can say briefly is that with my single hander if I can get and keep the fish above me in the current, landing alone with my net works good. Not sure if I can do that with the Spey rod though.

Thanks again talk later, Steve
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Old 11-07-2015, 02:17 PM
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Default Re: Fighting & Landing Big Fish;

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hardyreels View Post
...Much better to have one come lose at this time than after a 5 minute struggle as you try to bring the fish in...
Ard--good post. But when I read this you really made me stop and think. And, although I too always try early on to make sure the hook is set, I'd actually rather have the 5 minute's worth of fighting the lightly hooked fish.
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Old 11-07-2015, 05:42 PM
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Default Re: Fighting & Landing Big Fish;

We all have our own priorities, mine have always been more orientated toward the actual catch & release and I've never been a fan of a prolonged struggle. This is rooted in all those hours of deep thought I guess. These fish; we say we are fighting them when in reality our function once the fish is securely hooked is to bring it in and make the decision to either kill or release them. I meet many people who are really into feeling the fish struggling against the rod and line. I think this is born from the fact that for most folks fly fishing involves the catching of relatively small fishes most being under three pounds. We grow up reading about or watching programs about people angling for steelhead or salmon and those tales and images are filled with epic struggles man & rod against a powerful fish. With that seeded in the mind we go forth on each trip a-stream hoping to in some way experience what those fortunate few have made their chops upon. Sometimes we may find that we have taken entirely too long to land a 15" trout.

Ever since I began fishing for big fish which takes us back to 1980 and my first trip for Land Locked Atlantic Salmon, I began a learning process. That 'process' taught that if the mission was to catch a fish that I had driven 890 miles to have a shot at then I better not putz around when the fish was on the line. Many land locks were lost and also some sea runs over in the Maritime Provinces but with each year and more hook ups I began to dread the fish that went crazy and tried my best to get them to shore one by one.

Next came the Great Lakes salmon in the late 80's and with them there was no need to play around when a fish was hooked. It would take long enough to bring it in with the best drag and a heavy leader. By 94 the land locks were pretty well beaten up and the sea runs were scarce, the Provinces now required that I have a guide and all but a few places for Atlantic's were privately controlled. But 1989 had been the introduction to Alaska and I knew there were still big fish there. I worked and herded ducks until they were all in a line and 2004 brought a sea change of sorts. From Atlantic to Pacific that is and I brought what little I had learned with me once again to the 49th state and stayed. Some new rods, more reels and all the practice I could hope for got my game fine tuned but still I am about getting it over as quickly as possible. I have a picture of the last King salmon I ever killed, 5 years since I've held one out of the water and 5 years since I killed one of our precious brood stocks but when you look at the picture imaging hooking that at 6:01 AM and landing it at 6:10 AM.

Death of A King, I will kill no more forever...............

Click the image to open in full size.

I really won't ever kill another of that species, there's no need for me to do that. I've caught some larger since that fish but have no hero shots of them because they were not hoisted from the water. When you look at that one remember the guy holding it is 6'4" weighing 225 pounds and there is some perspective on how big these can be when you feel that little tap on the line.

Since then we have seen massive declines in run numbers with a couple good years and 3 real bad ones. I manage about 20 of them each season when I get the chance to go fish for them. A guide who has clients fishing for Kings is not allowed to fish. Period, you can assist in demonstrating casting, you can free snagged lines and tie on flies but you can not fish. So, I get just a day or 2 each of the past 4 seasons to get them hooked and when I do the name of the game isn't about the fight, it's about catching the fish successfully so that when I'm trying to explain to someone else how to bring one in I am doing so based on something I have done repeatedly with a good result. When you get the hang of landing fish you can pull off a morning like I did on June 16th this season. I made my first cast at 6:00 AM. and stopped fishing at 7:25 AM. or thereabout and had caught 13 kings and lost only 3. If the very first one had not been huge and he decided to leave the run and go about 200 yards down river, I may have done better. I think that the first and largest could have been handled much more quickly but I had chose to use an 11 foot 6 inch Hardy Swift in 7 weight with my Hardy 3 7/8" Perfect on it. I got the job done but it took about 20 minutes - 200 yards of river and 4 different attempts to put him in the bag. I was alone....................

Back in PA. I used to dry fly fish on Spring Creek and before they tore out the old dam above Milesburg I spent many an evening there on what we called 'The Big Flat' this was mirror calm classic spring creek dry fly at its best and on a good evening between 6 and 9:45 when it was way too dark you could catch 50 brown trout or 25 if you took too long playing them in. This was fishing with a 9' five weight PM-10 with a ten foot leader tapered down to 6 or 7X tippet depending on whether there was any breeze or rain. Wind ripples or rain pocking the surface allowed for a slightly heavier tippet attached to the #18 or 20 Blue Quill. Always the same fly regardless of the hatch; when I began to figure it out that I could catch more and perhaps some larger fish if I could bring them to my hand or net sooner. This was a delicate situation because I hate losing flies and even more so if they are snapped off in the jib of some hapless trout. A few were broken off but I began to develop technique and it was a two pronged approach to speeding up the timing from the take to the unhooking. First was the obvious of how much pressure could I really exert before the knot at the eye of that little fly broke? Second was the realization that if I used the right level of pressure in combination with allowing the fish to relax and rest before I brought it closer I could keep them calmer and thus get them in quicker. Nothing was a cure for them going nuts when they saw the hand or net but I was getting them there quicker! My old fishing buddy is a member here, he has only 3 or 4 posts but would I'm sure come on to verify that what I say happened really did, we caught a lot of trout.

Whether we talk brown trout 11 - 16 inches on a dry fly (the 16" jobs were few and far between but there were plenty of fat 13 & 14 to take up the slack) or 7 - 25 pound salmon on a streamer fly it's all the same, you need enough fish to be able to practice and to develop a technique. Those guys who can run a pool table game after game didn't get that good by doing it a couple times. Same with darts, archery or any activity that requires skills and mussel memory hand to eye and mitigation planning. The more you do it the better you get at it
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Old 01-25-2016, 10:12 PM
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Default Re: Fighting & Landing Big Fish;

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hardyreels
Now stop and picture this if you will. Rod high, tip shaking hard enough that the line is dancing wildly right to the surface and the fish is just under the surface. I think that all that motion was helping to free the hooks from wherever they were planted on the fish that got away.
Absolutely,Ard, and without a hint of uncertainty in my mind!

Almost every guy that hooks up to his first tarpon when I'm fishing with him starts violently whipping his rod tip back and forth at some point in the fight - usually even after being warned not to.

And the reason for it is that it is virtually impossible to catch one on an outgoing tide where I fish, considering the time it takes to get one in, when they don't wind up with 1 to 5 pounds of sargasso weed hanging off their line.

Since they feel so solidly hooked, they start trying to sling it off with violent back and forth motions of the rod. What they don't realize is that chances are better than 50 % that they are tenuously hooked less than 1/4" deep in solid bone with the barb not even covered with anything.

So all that waving around with 5 lbs of drag does is erode the bone into a cone shape, making it easier for the hook to fall out at the first opportunity. Sargasso weed cannot be slung off a line.

It is just so irritatiing and to tempting to try to shake it off, that most guys automatically start up doing it again after being warned, sometimes even multiple times.

Sooner or later the fish is going to be upstream of us, and the weeds will float down to a low rod and hit the tip, especially if the fisherman is helping by gaining line. Then I can pick pick it off for him when it hits the rod tip.

Instead, the fish starts jumping again or decides to run toward the boat, gets some slack, and the hook just falls out with a little head shaking. I think I put up a photo here once of the black coating worn off a fly hook up to the start of the barb and no further. But I have no idea where that pic is or I'd re-post it.

That entire writeup is absolutely terrific, Ard. I had not seen it before and am glad you took the time to flesh it out into a really good comprehensive article.

Thanks.
Ard Stetts likes this.
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