A Sit Down with Phil from Sandhill Coffee

I had the chance to visit with Phil Wingo of Sandhill Coffee a few weeks ago and shoot some photos of him turning raw beans in to the juice that gets me going every morning.  

It was great and I enjoyed getting to learn more about him and his new beans, including seeing and learning about the roasting process, in the place where he got started.  Personally, I really enjoy understanding the “how” of where the things I enjoy, come from.  Hope you do as well!

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Phil gave me a short write up of where Sandhill came from, and a bit more about his company.  

Why coffee?

Let me back track a bit, to give some insight as to what lead to this decision and how I’ve gotten to where I am today.

In early 2017, with my contract position coming to an end, I found myself panicking, trying to identify my next move.  Even as I applied and landed interviews, I found little working out. Needing to load up my fly boxes and catch up with old friends, I swung by DuPage Fly and walked out with a new job.  What’s better than getting to talk fly fishing every day?

I realized I hate grown frustrated with the job search, with multiple interviews and nothing to show for it.  All this got me thinking – I had always wanted to start my own business, but didn’t know how to make them happen.  I’d write things down, but nothing really materialized.  Now having a job to fall back on, I had the opportunity.  

Some previous ideas were, while on a big liquor kick, I dug in and did all the research to learn what it would take to start my own distillery.  Scratched that idea, way too much capital is needed upfront. Thinking of the outdoors, portable energy! Small solar panels for outdoors people to take camping with them. Smart idea but this is a one and done product, people buy this once and likely will not rebuy.

Jump to the hospital where my wife and I are welcoming our first son. As I’m making coffee runs to the café downstairs, that’s where it hits me - I need to investigate this world of coffee.  Thinking about how it fit in to my life, maybe not a daily habit, but seemed to always be present at the best times.  I started to think of fishing trips - first person awake starts the coffee. Or once we were awake enough, we stopped at the closest pace to grab coffee on the way to start our day. When I worked on a charter boat, we always started some coffee for the customers. When camping, I always brought some coffee with me. When you meet someone for work, ask if they want to grab a cup of coffee. I started seeing all the connections and realized it’s a way so many people connect. I thought this might be a good idea to go after, and starting doing the research on how to make it happen. 

Now I needed a name and a logo.  All of my hobbies are outdoors, so it seemed easy to make a connection to that. I needed something that outdoors people can relate to no matter their hobby, and a bird came to mind. Anyone can relate to a bird who enjoys being outside. However, my wife gets the credit for the crane.

With my brand I am promoting sustainability and the outdoors. Many of the outdoor brands that I have been purchasing have been doing this. Making clothes from repurposed fabrics. Making gear material from repurposed commercial products. For me, it seemed like an easy connection to make. The fun part now is putting this model into practice in this industry I’ve decided to join. I looked from start to finish, starting with the farms I purchase beans from, all the way to the end user. I looked to see what farms were doing to be sustainable. For the customer, using compostable products. My bags are compostable as well as cups to serve coffee in.

Where do I see this going? I hope to be the coffee brand you think of for your next trip outdoors. Whether its chasing fish for a weekend or backpacking a long trail, I want to be your sustainable coffee choice.

Thanks for having me on here Brad!

Sometimes It's Worth Braving the Elements

When I woke up that day, I never expected to find myself face down, belly in the snow, up to my elbow in mud and cold stream water.  But then again, I didn’t expect much of what happened in five of the wildest minutes in my fly fishing career.  

I had sent Mark a text with a screenshot of the weather - One hundred percent chance of rain starting in the morning, eighty percent chance all afternoon.  The outlook was bleak to say the least, and I wondered if it was worth ditching the family to stomp through the snow in a rainstorm.  With temps in the mid thirties, it had the makings of a terribly crappy day.  

After a long day, Mark and I finally connected by phone and found time to have “that” conversation.  I’m sure most fisherman have had it with a buddy, “So, it’s gonna be really shitty tomorrow, you still want to go?”.  I’ll be honest, with the long week I’d had, having a day to hang with the kiddo and Mrs. sounded downright nice.  You could hear it in our voices, neither of us sure it would be worth it, but also neither one wanting to be the one to decide to pull the plug.  “I’m game if you’re game” Mark said.  That was all I needed - “See you at 6:30 tomorrow morning.”

The drive went fast.  I hadn’t really spent much time with Mark.  We had floated in different boats on a couple of different day trips, but never really had the chance to get to know him.  It’s amazing what you can learn in three hours and it was fun to learn more about his travels through his band, River Valley Rangers.  Though he’d spent tons of time perfecting the mandolin, he hadn’t had a ton of experience in the Driftless, so I was excited to show him around.

We drove through sleet, snow, rain and even found about five minutes of clear weather, so it wasn’t a surprise when we rolled up on the first spot we had in mind and it was vacant. We gave it a quick look and decided to push forward to another spot we wanted to check out. As we rolled up, I quickly realized I’d fished here in the past, and thought it would be worth the walk down memory lane.

Rigging up the sleet began to turn to rain, and it began to come at a more consistent pace. Wadering up in the truck, I wanted to stay as dry as possible. As we walked down to bank, with streamer rigged, I figured it would be worth getting a few casts in before we began the long walk downstream to wade back up to the car. I set Mark up on one end of the pool, and I took the other. It didn’t take long, and I had a nice brown hooked up. Without my camera on me at this point, I quickly released the little guy to fight another day and went to find Mark. He was thrilled to see a hook up and noted he’d never caught a brown in the Driftless. I immediately went back to the car and grabbed the Sony and threw her in the bag. I did have hopes the weather would clear up.

As we trekked through knee deep snow, we made our way through a corn field and found some downed trees, making a great little spot for Mark to get his first Driftless brown.

It was one of those pools you can fish a few different ways. Throw upstream and let it sink and bounce it back. Toss it against the far bank and let it swing through. Sling it downstream, swing it and strip it back. Mark had options and with a perfect cast, somehow managed to combine the last two and with a perfect mend his line went tight. A perfect brown trout quickly tailwalked it’s way across the pool, and after a brief fight, Mark stripped him in to the net. Elated, Mark scooped it up and we took a few pictures to memorialize what will be the first of many Driftless trout.

Still wondering how I ended up face down in the snow and mud?

As we walked our way back to the car, I snuck my way up to the pool where i connected earlier. We hadn’t fished the entire pool, and I started at the downstream side, casting off the far bank. As I stepped forward, I first thought I had gotten hung up along some brush that had been washed down this area over the last few floods. When I felt the tug pull towards the deeper pool upstream, I got a little excited and thought I might have something bigger than this morning. As she turned downstream and made a run, I knew it was game on and I had a bit more than I thought. She moved towards the downed barbwire fence spanning the width of the creek. I knew I had a small chance of landing her if she made her way it. With 5x tippet on, I didn’t have much room for margin.

I directed her upstream and she came completely out of the water. One of the most colored up browns I’ve seen in a long time. I about lost it, entering full freak out mode. Suddenly I couldn’t reach the net attached to my bag. As I tried to move upstream, my feet got tangled in the seemingly miles of fly line that suddenly were at my feet. I screamed for Mark downstream. There was no shelf to stand on. No area upstream or down to land the fish. Netting this thing myself we seemingly going to be impossible, I thought.

As I directed her back upstream, she made a run for the undercut bank just below my feet. I stumbled to the bank, keeping pressure on the line, praying she was still attached. My heart was slowly sinking. I took a deep breath, told Mark to hold my rod, and I dove to the bank, reaching for the line, and a prayer. I down up to my arm and couldn’t feel anything but the bank. She was buried, or the fly was lost, to only live on in stories. I grabbed the net and pushed the line down and away and all hell broke loose. A slab of a brown erupted from the depths. I can’t tell you how she ended up in the net. I probably had my eyes closed and a goofy look on my face. In full Superman pose, I held one of the nicest trout I’ve ever caught up in the Driftless. Not the biggest, but one of the most beautiful trout I’ve ever caught. And the way it went down, I’ll hopefully never forget.

Looking back this was a trip that almost never was. I find myself often taking the easy or lazy way out. Having a beautiful baby girl and such an amazing wife, I honestly don’t want to be away from them much. It’s days like this that reconnect you with why we get out. It reminded me that going outside shouldn’t only be for sunny days. Getting to hang with Mark, finding fish, and reconnecting and recharging - all just as important as the others. Even without a fish worth the stories, this would have been a great day. The weather did clear, Mark got his first trout in the Driftless, and we found plenty of reasons to come back.



Driftless Early Season Opener 2019

As with all good stories, it started with a text string. I’ve never been on the water with Mark, but we’d always talked about it. At first I didn’t notice the other number, but soon realized he had looped in another fishy guy, Pat and we were quickly locking down details. I hadn’t wet a line with Pat either, so I was getting excited to not only be getting out again, but to be starting the year on the water with some new fishing buddies.

With the forecast expecting crazy warm temps, we were able to rope in Keith, and we had a foursome. As we finalized plans - the famed 59/90 meet up, fly patterns, and streams, family obligations popped up and Mark had to make a last second trip to MI, and wouldn’t be able to join us.

With coffees in hand we met up and started the trip towards the Driftless. The trip was a great way to get to know each other a bit better, share Driftless experiences and learn a bit more about Pat’s writing career. By day he works in creative marketing, and by night he writes for some of the industries best fly fishing magazines. Some of his recent works include the DRAKE, The FLYFISH JOURNAL, and FLY FISHERMAN. It was great to learn more about the process of submitting articles and working with the different editorial staffs. I’ve enjoyed his humor in what I had read prior and I look forward to future articles.

Between the three of us, we passed the time quickly, and before we knew it, we were making our final turns to the stream of choice. As we rolled down in to the valley, we drove a good length of the stream, finding our spot empty, and full of promise.

With the temps in the 40’s, we had high hopes for the day and honestly, for me, I just felt lucky to be out. Having Keith along and getting to spend some time with him was a great surprise, and I was hoping to get in a few good photos, and maybe hook a few fish along the way.

It didn’t take long, only four casts with a small black streamer, and I hooked a nice mid size brown, that darted out of some deep water cover, at the back end of a pool. Soon after, Pat was on the board on a nymph rig, and Keith followed up with a nice brown as well. We bounced around as the temperatures rose, leaving us peeling off layers and reaching more for our water than the normal hot coffee.

Keith provided the highlight of the day, raising and hooking a fish on a size 22 dry. Fish on dries can be rare in January, so hearing Keith found a willing eater was great to hear.

Rising temps soon had the snow melting, and water temps dropping. It wasn’t long before the consistent bite turned off, and we ran in to other anglers. Completing our stretch led us to already-fished water, by a couple of anglers and their young group of kids. It was great to see families spending time together outdoors.

By all accounts, this was a great and very successful Opener, and a hopeful start to a successful season. Hope everyone was able to get out when the weather cooperated, and those battling the cold, may you find open water and willing fish.

Somehow this got missed..... Cozad's 1 Fly 2017

Sometimes, when you overthink things, you get in your own way.

When it comes to my photos, I really do enjoy taking photos as much as I do fishing. Being able to capture that moment of shear joy when a big fish is landed, the beauty of a fall brook or brown trout dressed for the spawn, or the silent moment on the stream - it’s all just as enjoyable for me as landing a fish. So when I’ve got the chance to spend a few days with some buddies, I tend to take a lot of photos. Somehow, this was a weekend to remember, that never made through the editing room.

Here’s the Driftless One Fly that Pete Cozad puts on every year, all the way back to 2017. I wasn’t able to make it here in 2018, but looking back at these photos makes me excited at the hope of taking part again in 2019.

Last Trouty Dance of 2018

I’d normally ensure I spent the last weekend of the Wisconsin Trout season on the water, but this year it wasn’t meant to be. When I say it wasn’t meant to be, I mean really, it seemed like Mother Nature and our social calendar were going to do all they could to conspire to keep me home.

For those not in the know, it seemed like for most of August and September a good part of Wisconsin, and the Midwest for that matter, were under heavy floodwaters, or forecasts of heavy storms. Bridges blown out, towns underwater - ton of damage everywhere.

We managed to find a small window, as things returned to normal, and took full advantage. In three days we managed to hit five streams, and I fished another solo. That solo mission was the most productive four hours of fishing I’ve had with a hopper in years. They were keyed in on the foam, and I took full advantage. I found a few of decent size, but more importantly, the fish I found were dressed in their Sunday best - shimmering in that buttery brown, with their blue cheeks and bright red spots. Unfortunately, I also went light weight and left the camera in the car. Though I missed some amazing fish, and the photos they’d have produced, the results have me wondering if I should be trying that more often.

From there, it was your standard buddy trip, hole hopping our way around the Driftless and finding fish every where you’d think, and in places you might never consider. Using the Gazetteer as our guide, it was great picking a blue line and finding a bridge, and starting another adventure.

It’s amazing how much fun end of year fishing can be - when the fish are keyed in on big hoppers, the brush is taller than me, and every cast could produce a giant. Though we weren’t able to dial in on anything of size, we had a blast, drank some good beers, and worked a ton of new water. As a guy strapped for time, it was exactly what was needed. (And Frank, see I told you I’d post the pics.)

When you’re looking at the pics, notice the banks and the impact the flooding had. The amount of water that passed through some of these smaller streams is insane. To see how quickly some of these watersheds recovered is absolutely amazing.

Driftless Early Season Opening Day

It's crazy to think that it's already Opening Day for the Driftless.  It seems like it was only yesterday we were soaking in the last few weekends of hopper fishing and late summer afternoons.  

The new early season schedule opens a lot more fishing time, but also leaves us vulnerable to the elements.  Traditions of fishing Opening Day have been tested in years past for sure, but this year seems to be ready to set a new bar.  With sub zero temps overnight most of this recent week, and a high of six degrees for Saturday, only the toughest of fisherman will be braving the temps.  

Starting another trout season in freezing temps isn't new, and always brings me back to an early season day with Jonathan Marquardt of Bad Axe Designs, chasing browns on top, nymphs and streamers.  We fought through single digit temps, caught some fish, and enjoyed the start of what was a season to remember.  

To all those braving the temps, you're more hardcore than this author.  Best of luck to all, be safe and stay warm!

A Summer That Was

Looking in the rearview mirror, 2016 was a year to remember.  Some for good and some for bad. The family went through some serious health scares, new responsibilities and much greater work load at the office, and lots of household projects.  All this led to the blog taking a bit of a back seat.  So here, we take a look back at a trip from late summer.  

One benefit of some changes at the office, was getting to head out to our new office in Denver.  With this in mind, ownership planned our annual sales meeting to be held in Boulder, CO this year, allowing me to sneak away for a day or two to get on the water.

Heading out a few days early, I dropped a line to a few fly shops in the area, hoping to find a fishing buddy.  It's funny calling a fly shop and trying to explain that you want to take one of their employees fishing.  I truly wasn't looking for a guided day on the water.  I knew where to find fish and had the confidence I would, but knowing I was headed to Rocky Mountain National Park, all I could think about was the photographic opportunities.  I didn't think so many people would think I was crazy!  

I had some luck when I called Kirk's Fly Shop in Estes Park, and connected with one of the shop guys, Ben Liddle.  After a quick call with Ben to introduce myself through the shop, we exchanged phone numbers and began texting about patterns and came up with a plan to connect my first day out there for a few hours in the afternoon.  

I arrived at Kirk's a bit early and took stock of the whole place.  From the fly bins to the shirt rack, I was impressed, and there was a ton to check out.  The place was a buzz of activity - people meeting up with their guides, customers buying rods and reels and getting direction on where to do, and a few guys just bumming around, soaking it all in. 

The shop was impressive, with homemade fly bins stocked full of local favorites.  Walls of Kirk's Fly Shop t-shirts, fly fishing themed goods the kitchen, camping gear galore, and of course, plenty of hats.   

As Ben sent a text, letting me know he was on his way, I finished up buying a couple dozen local favorite flies, a few shirts, and of course my license.  I scurried out of the shop with my new goodies and headed to the car, where I'd meet Ben.  

Waiting for Ben, the parking lot was buzzing, with lots of people coming and going.  I stuck out like a sore thumb, changing clothes and rigging up a fly rod as every car passing hoped I'd be instead, pulling out of the valuable spot I occupied.  It wasn't too much longer before Ben arrived, and we were off to grab a quick sandwich and head off to the Big Thompson to chase some trout. 

Having never been to west of the Mississippi chasing trout, I wasn't sure what to expect, but was in awe as we rolled in to Rocky Mountain National Park.  I pinged Ben with questions, and was impressed with all he knew and his acumen in the outdoors.  Ben was studying to work in the outdoor industry, and spent a lot of time with his family growing up, developing a passion for all nature's wonders.  

As we made it down to the river, I let Ben take the lead and figured I'd pick up a few things watching him fish some of the pocket water.  This stretch was similar to some Driftless streams in it's width, and similar to the Pere Marquette and other MI rivers with it's pine tree lined banks.  The current however, was considerably different, and I quickly regretted leaving the felt sole boots at home.  I proceeded to test my balance and nerves as I played a real life game of Frogger, clumsily making my way across and upstream.  

We worked deep pools, runs and riffles and managed to a fool a few in to eating.  Landing a decent brown trout, I mentioned to Ben that maybe it was the "city guy" in me, but the clouds looming over the mountains didn't look too inviting.  I don't think it was fifteen minutes before we were running to the car as rain and hail pounded down, and lightening quickly approached.  As we made it back to the car, we debated heading out and calling it day, or sticking it out and giving it some time to blow over.  

And as quickly as the rain came, so too did the blue skies.  Hopping out of the car and making our way back to the river rays of sun poked through the trees and I had a sudden appreciation for patience.  I looked at my watch, and the rain storm hadn't cost us but an hour, and now we were heading back out to finish what had already been a great day.  We went back and forth catching fish until just before dusk.  As we rolled out of the park we came across a valley that perfectly framed the mountains and the beautiful, never ending sky that the West is famous for.  

A big thanks goes out to Ben who was crazy enough to be willing to hop in a car with me and be willing to show me around.  Looking back on the reactions I got when I called, I'm surprised he stuck with me.  So for that, Ben, I appreciate it, and hope we get another chance to fish again next year.  

North to Chasing Smallies aka Sancho's last stand

It started out as a possibility of chasing trout, when someone threw out the idea of heading to WI to chase bronze instead.  Everyone hopped on board quickly, and before we knew it, we had a few boats and began developing a plan.  

We'd head north and float a little piece of water known for it's smallies and the possibility of some toothy critters.  We'd heard it would be a popper game, thus the reason Du Page Fly Co. was out of Boogles for a small period of time earlier this summer - I'd swear we bought all they had.  But we also threw in a few streamers and figured it would be better to be prepared and have options.  

We launched Friday morning and headed north, chock full of excited nervousness.  Having checked in with some of the local guides, we had high hopes the bite would be on.  

With perfect temps and beautiful days, Friday and Saturday yielded some great fish on top and a few on streamers as well.  Overall it was a great trip, finding new friends and enjoying the benefits of having buddies with boats.  


Cozad's Driftless 1 Fly

As many of you know last year was a tough spring for me, nursing a broken ankle and then having the needed recovery period.  I don't like having to sit still and not being able to skate and play hockey, missing the Early Season opener, and especially missing Pete Cozad's First Annual Driftless 1 Fly tournament, drove me slightly insane.  Just ask my wife.  

So when Pete Cozad threw the details out and began to gather names for a team drawing, I didn't hesitate to get my name in there as a captain.  I was confident the rest would fall in to place.  

Our four anglers came together quickly.  Led by Jonathan Marquardt of BadAxe Designs and Yeti Cooler folk lore, he was joined by Bill Kazenberger of Skinny Water Culture and DuPage Fly Fishing, Jason Puls, the man, the myth, the legend, and myself, the dead weight.  

We began to develop our plan - where to fish, what fly to fish, what beer to bring along etc.  Everything seemed to be looking great.  Things got knocked off track on a trip up to Iowa County as Jason and I worked on solving all the worlds problems.  Turns out he finally got the call he was waiting for, and the job he was praying for finally opened up.  Unfortunately that meant he was moving to Portland in three weeks and the 1 Fly was out of the question.  Turns out he was destined to be a spey guy, I guess.  (Jay - can't wait to swing up some steel with ya bud!)  

With a spot open, I called my ace in the hole, Keith Webster, the Great White Ninja of Bettinardi lore.  I wasn't 100% sure he'd be off the IR, after recent reconstructive surgery to his ankle, but he was riddled with cabin fever and quickly said he'd find a way to make it happen.  

Back to a team of four, we tossed around all kinds of ideas in the days leading up.  But with a lack of direction from our team captain (I guess that was me), we decided a day of prefishing would do us all some good, and hopefully help us uncover some keys to finding fish.  

Our merry band of Anglers - (from left) Bill, Keith, Jonathan, and I'm the tall one on the end.  

We got up Friday morning, meeting up with Pete to do a bit of work with the drone, while Keith ran off with Zach and Jan, from Team Longshots to hit the water.  We all headed up to the Coulees and throughout the day, everyone found a few willing fish.  Well that is everyone but me.  Getting skunked on your prefishing day doesn't exactly leave your hopes high.  I didn't even get to test the flies I tied just for the tourney.  I was quite frustrated and unsure of what to do.  But I knew at the very least it was going to be fun and as we called an end to day at the Driftless Cafe, we laughed and drank our beers discussing the excitement that was to come.  

As we broke for bed, we made our decision on where to fish, and I tied on a new leader, some fresh tippet, and a fly I whipped up Thursday night - jig hook, black pheasant tail nymph with a big ol' bead.  

As we woke and packed up the truck, the parking lot came to life. Stream judges, competitors, fly shop reps, license plates from four different states - it seemed there were quite a few people heading to the Driftless Angler, HQ for the Driftless 1 Fly.  

We arrived at the shop to a whirl of activity and familiar faces.  It's always great when an event like this can bring people together from so many places to raise money for such a great cause.  As everyone milled about, chatting and sipping coffee out of their Yeti tumblers, Pete and his team worked quickly to catalog and interview the teams and gather everyone's flies to be donated to local teaching efforts for youths.  At eight am we'd have a shot gun start, with everyone leaving the shop and heading to their streams of choice.  

We got lucky and found our chosen spot empty.  Our stream judges were Curt Rees and John Porter, two local guys who were kind enough to volunteer, but were unlucky enough to pull our team.  (Curt and John were both great guys and excellent fisherman.  I got to spend some time with them after we broke off and hope to get to spend some more time on the water with them again.  It's guys like them that make events like this a real success.)  I'm sure they had no idea they were in for the craziness we had in store.  

We chose to break up, and fish in two man teams, with one group working upstream, and the other walking down and working back upstream.  Jonathan and I would go downstream and walk back up, while Keith and Bill started at the car and worked up.  When we scouted the night before, we saw two anglers working their way up, which led me to thinking it might be a bit challenging, but confident in both our skills to get things done.  

Laughing, busting some serious chops and joking all morning, Jonathan and I worked a few holes and were able to produce about thirty fish between us, with Bill and Keith coming up with around ten.  We got in to a rhythm that at one point had us catching fish every three or four casts.  As we laughed and kidded each other, it became apparent we were secretly trying to outfish each other, recasting after releasing a fish before the other could get a line wet.  As Jonathan played up his celebrity status, I could only relent and allow him to keep fishing.  His three consecutive fish over 14" made it pretty easy.  

We met back at the car and chowed down on some sandwiches and regrouped.  With lots of good water still to fish from the morning, it was agreed Keith and Jonathan would head upstream to a beaver dam and try to entice some players with his "meat", and Bill and I would head back down and see if we can find some more players and then finish working our way upstream.  

As Bill and I found a few more fish willing to eat, Keith and Jonathan did the same and then made their way down towards us.  As we each broke off, Jonathan found himself the last man standing, fishing what barely resembled a Slumpbuster, with pretty much only the rabbit strip tail remaining behind the bead.  We all watched intently as Jonathan continued to work different holes, as if we were all huddled around the 18th green of a major, watching someone putt out, not knowing how the scoring would work out.  

At the end of the day, for a team that just wanted to have fun, I couldn't be more proud.  We finished with 50 fish total as a team, finishing third as a team, and with Jonathan finishing sixth overall and myself in seventh overall individually.  

Pete ran an awesome tournament that brought in some great people, raised a lot of money for the local youth fishing efforts, and I had an absolute blast.  My hat goes of to Team AZN - Jerry Khang, Ger Moua, Jacob Khang and Mitchell Khang.  Their team managed to double the score of the second place team, and from what I heard, Jerry, the individual winner, caught something in the range of 75+ fish on the day.  That's truly impressive!  To all the new people I got to meet, fish with (Jan, we need to do it again ASAP!), and ran in to at the Driftless Angler, thanks for coming out and helping to make this a tremendous weekend.  

Thanks Pete for putting together a great event and I hope we can be a part of it, in some way, next year as well!