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In Depth with the Creator of Simms Cloud Camo, a Pattern Designed to Up Your Odds Against the Most Distinguishing Flats Species.
Ask any bonefish or permit junkie their favorite aspect of flats fishing, and you’ll get the same response: It’s like hunting. And they’re right. Hunting and flats fishing are one in the same. Whether it’s sneaking around in the mountains for elk, or getting into to casting range of a tailing permit, both types of stalks place the utmost importance on stealth. Hunters have been wearing camouflage to blend in to their surroundings since the beginning of time, so doesn’t it make sense to do the same when hunting fish? We think so, which is why we partnered with the best in the concealment business, Veil Camo. Check out our conversation below with Veil’s founder, Joe Skinner and learn a little bit more about his obsession, his company, and the design and development of Simms’ latest salt water concealment pattern, Cloud Camo.
Simms: So tell us how your journey into the world of concealment began? Skinner: Hmmm, well I guess I’d have to say it started when I was in the military in 08. But it wasn’t until around 2010 that I really started to get into hunting and outdoor activities. So I guess it was during this span that I really started to get into the game. At the time, the US army was using that pixelated digital stuff that was very monochromatic, grey/green color. For the life of me, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around why they went with this pattern because it was really only operational in gravel pits. It really kind of bothered me and sowed the seeds of what I guess you could call an obsession.
Simms: And your thoughts were similar in the camo you were seeing being marketed to hunters?Skinner: Pretty much. When I got into hunting, I immediately jumped in to what I thought to be the most challenging type, being bow hunting. Like today, back then there were just tons of camo companies and patterns to choose from but I just felt like all of the camos out there were extremely limiting. It was just all what’s referred to as mimicry patterns, you know, patterns depicting realistic tree branches, or leaves and things like that. That’s all fine and good for very specific backdrops but nothing out there offered the versatility I was after.
Simms: Was there any one moment when you made a conscious decision to make an attempt to create a better solution?Skinner: Yeah. I was sitting there in a treestand, just waiting as you do in a treestand. I was just kind of looking around paying close attention to the surroundings and I started to make associations with design ideas relating to nature. I started to wonder, are there any camo patterns out there that incorporate these ideas? Can I do it? Maybe I should try it…I’ll just try it for fun. So from there, I really just kind of started tooling around with software that allowed me to plug in different mathematical concepts and ideas into patterns that I could manipulate. So in essence, I was able to create imagery based on math found in nature.
Simms: So when exactly did you start Veil Camo?Skinner: You know, it really wasn’t long after I initially started fooling around with the idea. I created a few more patterns and in 2012, I really felt like my ideas and patterns could affect the market and that’s when Veil started.
Simms: How would you describe your camo creation process?Skinner: Veil patterns are based on the way nature is built rather than copying nature with photo real imagery. It’s about organically creating camo that works in a way that fools the eye.
Simms: Having said that, what is the Veil Difference?
Skinner: It’s not one specific thing, it’s a collection of many things linked together in a powerful way. At Veil, we have a four-tier approach. We utilize basic camouflage theory, mathematical ideas found in nature, color palettes derived from a target environment, and scientific data based on what the target animal can see, and perceive.
Simms: OK, can you break each of these pillars down and tell us the significance of each?
Skinner: Sure. So for us, some of the basics of camo theory include disruptive coloration, perception of symmetry and shape, micro-disruption and macro-disruption. Think of disruptive coloration as a texture linked with a color palette that will dissolve you into your surroundings. Perception of symmetry and shape is something many animals are particularly sensitive to. Micro-disruption kind of falls under disruptive coloration. Think of this as texture breakup based on the visual biases of the target environment. And finally, Macro-disruption. This is the type of disruptive idea that breaks apart the symmetry of the human form.
Simms: So now, let’s move to the scary part. How does math come into play?
Skinner: Haha. Yes, math is scary and for the record, I am not a mathematician by any means. We’re using mathematical theories based on the form and chaos found in the natural world and that’s really what fractal math and chaos math is. Fractals are self-repeating patterns that scale. If you look at the way trees grow or grass bunches up and grows out, they grow in these self- repeating patterns but it’s never perfect. There’s always some other element that knocks it off its perfection. That’s accounted for by the other very critical concept which is chaos theory. These different formulas are plugged into the way that shapes and distortions are generated allowing us to engineer self-repeating patterns broken apart in this chaotic and very natural way that’s mirrored in the way the natural world does the very same thing from lakes to trees, to craggy boulders, you name it.
Simms: And color?
Skinner: We analyze the environment and we pick of range of tones based on where the end user is going to be. On the ground, in a tree, the edge of a river, in the river etc. We also choose color based on the capabilities of the target animal. Information that tells us what are they going to see in relation to what the end user is wearing and the environment around it.
Simms: And finally, let’s talk about the other seemingly complex pillar, what the animal can see and perceive. How are you getting that data?
Skinner: We started out by hiring a wildlife biologist to aggregate all of the published data and research on all of the most commonly hunted game and predator animals. It’s basically biological research data based on the anatomy of their eyes and a multitude of other data points relating to perception of their environment and related behavioral characteristics. We can then say, ok, scientifically speaking, they see this color spectrum, have this estimated visual acuity, etc, etc. which steers our decision making and design process dramatically.
Simms: What was your initial thought when we approached to you create a fish specific camo?
Skinner: Hahaha. Yeah, I laughed at it, I was pretty skeptical.
Simms: Why is that?
Skinner: Because at the time, I didn’t really grasp exactly how fish were able to see above the water in the way they do, I just had never considered it. Looking back, that was incredibly naive.
Simms: Was there an eye opening moment when a lightbulb turned on?
Skinner: Not exactly. I mean, once I started digging in, I quickly realized that there was a ton of validity to a fish camo. I had no idea how much they can actually see and perceive, I mean for starters they can see more colors than we can. The data shows they are so hypersensitive to color. Now, how they process that info is another question and there’s obviously lots of differing opinions on the behavioral side of the subject. That being said, when it came to creating a fish camo, I focused on what I did know – the data.
Simms: So now you are a believer in fish camo. Let’s talk about the Cloud Camo design process. Was that intimidating?
Skinner: When the design for Cloud Camo started, I was way more open minded. We were focusing on bonefish, permit and tarpon. Once again, through research, I found that their spectrum of color and field of vision [depending on depth] was pretty similar to what I found when I began studying trout. With all of that research in our back pocket already, we really had a great jumping off point. The next part of the process was to ask ourselves, okay, so what are they going to see in cloudy conditions, sunny conditions and so on.
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Simms: What was the main difference or challenge when creating Cloud Camo vs. River Camo? Skinner: For sure, the environment. When you are fishing in a river, you’re going to be close to trees, shrubbery, rocks, mountains and things like that. In terms of the flats, we focused on the overwhelming likelihood that the end user was going to be surrounded by sky. And when you think about that, sky is pretty barren, so for sure that was the main challenge at hand.
Simms: And you fished with our friend Wil Flack down in Belize to test the first iterations, correct? Any interesting findings with Wil? Skinner: Yes. You know, I’d say that I was relieved when I saw the initial pattern in an actual salt water environment. It matched up with my research really well. He liked the pattern I brought down but did provide some input on color tweaks and things like that. His comments were right in line with the tweaks I wanted to make after seeing it in the environment. I was able to make the color adjustments on site and got a big thumbs up from him. By the way, that guy is an absolute ninja!
Simms: Haha, that he is. So your time with Wil was essentially testing and fine tuning? Skinner: Exactly. I had a really strong concept before I went down. One of the last adjustments I made was to warp the pattern ever so slightly. I think that made a huge difference in how it plays with the way water warps light. Fully underwater, you might not get an outright image of an angler but you might get a shape. However, fish are able to see above through a window in the surface and are quite often able to see a lot of detail. That’s the critical stuff, I mean, that’s when fish get spooked! I wanted the pattern to distort and confuse in a way modeled after ripples and all of that turbulence on the surface playing with the way light is being scattered and distorted under the surface.
Simms: Let’s talk about permit. Some anglers out there have the mentality of don’t put the permit on a pedestal. Anglers who believe in this philosophy will throw orange fly lines, wear bright red shirts and have no problem plunking a heavy crab fly right on their nose. And to their credit, these folks do catch permit. Knowing what you know through your Cloud Camo research and development, does this surprise you? Skinner: You know, it really does. Like I said earlier, when I started down the road of creating a fish camo, I was skeptical. I thought, it probably doesn’t really matter. What I learned is, yeah, there are probably guys out there who can go out there wearing a clown suit and catch permit, but that’s not the type of fishing Cloud Camo was developed for. I mean, you could go out in a bright blue jumpsuit and shoot deer all day long in some places, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about technical high-end pursuit of game. We’re talking about more critical, more challenging pursuits.
Simms: Along those lines, can you give us an elevator pitch on what Veil Camo patterns are designed for? Skinner: Veil patterns are purpose built camos designed to conceal hunters and anglers in critical situations, in exposed environments where stealth can make or break the situation.
Simms: So back to the question regarding permit. Based on what you now know, is a permit going to be able to depict an angler wearing that bright red shirt more so than an angler wearing Cloud Camo? Skinner: All day long. And if you are a skeptic, all you’ve got to do is dig into the research. It didn’t’ take me long at all to put any of my initial concerns and apprehension about fishing camo to bed. All anglers have stories that confirm and reconfirm how sensitive these animals are to their environment because let’s not forget, when you’re in the water, you’re in their house and they know what their house as well as you know your house.