“I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for…”
John Milton, Areopagitica
Day 3: April 9, 2013:
– For some explanation of my One-fly Season and results of Day 1 and 2 go HERE.
It was a beautiful spring day. Skunk cabbage was unfolding, peepers were peeping, but tree leaves were still hiding away. The temperature was perfect – practically non-existent. No real wind to speak of. It was the kind of weather that you don’t really feel at all. The stream was a little high – but not discouragingly so. Bugs were in evidence. Grannoms maybe? (size 14 or so caddis with black body), small black stones, some olives…Fish were not super active on top – I witnessed occasional rises. With ovipositing bugs bouncing around my fly with the peacock body and dark hackle was actually a pretty good match. I figured maybe a swing and even a drag with a little bounce on top… No such luck. Dead drift, Leisenring lift, slow swing, fast swing, dangle, dap… and all that jazz – nothing doing.
After a few uneventful hours I was beginning to doubt myself very seriously. Worse I was beginning to question this whole one-fly season experiment. It was nice to be out and all – but still a fish here or there would be okay too. I stuck with the peacock body wetfly. No weight. I tried all the different presentations I could think of. I just couldn’t shake a nagging suspicion that I had. This is where the Milton quote (see above) comes in. It is one thing to say to yourself that you’re going to do a one-fly tenkara season. The first two outings were pretty successful – but those were mountain stream brookies. Nothing against those fish – they are my favorite fish, and mountain streams are my favorite settings to fish, but…let’s face it they are often not very discriminating. They can be spooky – and stealth is essential, but they are not usually that picky about the fly. Now I was up against well fed fish in a rich limestone stream. In my experience these fish do not usually move very much to a fly. There are always exceptions of course but in general, in the absence of active surface feeding, I have never found these limestone fish to rise to blind cast dries regularly or move up from the depths to intercept shallow drifting wets. On small mountain streams sometimes, very often, fish will move quite a bit. I often see fish charge flies from who knows where. Cast a nymph, before it sinks, bam! – fish on. It is easy to stick to your virtue (your one-fly season) when it is not that severely tested. Now it was being tested.
So there it is…virtue and virtue (un) tested. I’ll admit the Milton quote wasn’t going through my head – but instead a line from a Billy Bragg song, Must I paint You a Picture, that paraphrases the idea. The line is “Virtue never tested is no virtue at all”. So here was the test.
Hours had passed with only one dink – and that dink wasn’t even landed. The fly box was nearly empty 2 flies left. I was going over the possibilities in my head trying to figure out what the problem was – and I kept coming up with one idea. And here comes the whole lesson of the day – as I see it. It is a re-learning of something I knew.
I had just gotten some new hooks that I wanted to try out. Many of the Japanese hooks that are used for tenkara flies are fine wire hooks, with slightly upturned and shockingly sharp points. The upturned point is to aid in positive hooking. I usually use a heavy wire, standard nymph hook for my brown hackle peacock fly (Mustad S80-3906 Nymph 3xH). However, I’ve been successfully using light wire Japanese hooks this year on my previous trips and I wanted to try this other hook (locally available). So I tied up a handful of flies on this new hook (Owner Mosquito No. 10) already imagining the fish they would catch.
The stream has been pounded all day by a bunch of anglers, hours have passed, the sun is starting to sink, no fish have come to hand, I am getting tempted to forgo the one-fly business (or at lest the no added weight business…) So I had burned through the 9 new flies that I had tied for the trip (well there were a bunch of other flies back in the car – but no brown hackle peacock flies). I was down to two flies in the fly box. One was a brown hackle peacock tied on a heavy wire hook and one was a grizzly hackled, quill body wetfly tied on a heavy nymph hook (how’d that get in there?). So I tied brown hackle peacock fly tied on the heavier hook – it was my ace in the hole. I had been avoiding it on purpose. But now was the time to put to test the notion of the heavy hook vs. the light hook. And….third or fourth cast in a run that I had just fished through with the other fly, fish on.
Of course I lost this fly in a few minutes – so who knows how it wold have performed over time. Now I was down to just one fly – the grizzly quill wetfly. This fly was tied on a heavy hook as mentioned – so I had good confidence in it. I moved to another run that I had already fished through – and which had been fished through all day long by others. And literally first cast with the new fly – another fish on.
So was the mystery unraveled? The problem with fishing is that you can never be absolutely sure – the fish don’t talk. The variables are constantly changing throughout the day – so even if you try to keep some things constant on your side of the equation – the other side is always different. In this case I really think that the heavier hooks made all the difference. All day I had the nagging suspicion that if I were getting the fly a little deeper it would make a difference. In the past I would have switched to a beadhead or weighted fly – but sticking to the one-fly idea I didn’t do that. At least until I had no choice. I still didn’t add weight – but instead just switched to flies tied on heavier hooks. And I started catching fish. It may have all been a coincidence but… I was reminded of why I started using that particular hook in the first place. A few years back when I took up tenkara and decided to avoid using split shot I figured I’d start using the heavier hooks. That was the whole reason to use that hook – and so it seems to be born out as a good idea – at least sometimes and on some streams.
So it seems that on this day, at least for me, weight mattered. I’m not saying that somebody more expert in tenkara technique could not have coaxed more fish on a light-wire hooked fly. Very likely the may have. But – and perhaps it is just a refuge for the inept – a heavier hook seemed to make all the difference for me on this day.
Day 4: April 17, 2013:
Just a quick report for this day. My mother recently got a little cottage in the Laurel Highlands of PA. It sits along a little stream – as far as I know the section of the stream right past the place is hit pretty hard and is a put and take stocked stream. I believe that other more remote sections may have wild brookies, but I haven’t had a chance to explore yet (I will of course).
I took a quick trip to check the place out and got a bit of fishing in. I had a handful of flies (tied on heavy hooks). I fished till I lost them, which was about 1/2 hr. I didn’t have waders on so I couldn’t get the flies snagged across the stream (not to mention those that the trees grabbed).