“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.
I went to another run – and had another fish (long distance release). Then I lost this fly and was out of flies. There were more in the car – but it was time to call it a day, I had a long ride home.
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:
Mrs. CastingAround gets in a little crochet while while I hit the stream
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).
I managed one stocker brookie and had a follow by another. I stink at fishing for stocked fish – I never have much luck with stockers… Not skunked anyway.
If you have paid any attention to any tenkara discussions you have probably noticed the idea of “one-fly” coming up. Very simply put the idea of “one-fly” fishing is to use basically one fly pattern for all of your fishing – no hatch matching, no changing flies for that deep pool, etc. This method of fishing then is focused on presentation and not fly pattern. And though it is often posed by tenkara anglers these days, the idea of “one-fly” is certainly not unique to tenkara. I imagine there are plenty of old-timers that would scratch their head at this idea as being an “idea” at all. What I mean is prior to the explosion of match the hatch, and even now, there are plenty of folks that fish with a very simple fly selection – perhaps not limiting it to one fly – but three or four patterns anyway, it’s not any “idea” it’s just the way they fish. I can recall times (though not that often) when I watched some old-timer work his way along the stream with a wet-fly swing, regardless of anything else. He was just fishing his wet-fly. No fly switching – just one-fly. When I read Paul Arnold’s book The Wisdom of the Guides – one idea that the fly fishing guides mentioned over and over was the idea of good presentation being more important than fly selection. That is – keep your fly selection simple and focus on technique. This has become a sort of tenkara mantra – though tenkara doesn’t own it. And so I come to the idea of a using one-fly for all of my fishing through tenkara – but it is not something that need be limited to tenkara.
So why do a “one-fly” season? I’d like to say from the get go that this is not about proving anything, tenkara-related or otherwise. I am not really interested in saying that “one-fly” is better than hatch-matching – I think that that line of reasoning is misguided. It is all about fishing in a way that an individual finds enjoyable right? So if someone enjoys hatch-matching, and all that goes with it that is cool with me – I like that too. I have never been a person to compare tenkara and western fly fishing to each other with the goal of declaring a “winner”. They are both fun – they are similar in some ways – and they are different in others – there are pros and cons to each – and in the end it comes down to what floats your boat. I have fished tenkara almost exclusively for my trout fishing and done so with a very simple fly selection the last three seasons, not quite one-fly – but pretty simple usually, especially the past two years. And I have done at least as well as I have ever done. I make no claims at being an expert – or even “accomplished” – so any success is merely based on my own standards. I have not noticed any drop-off in fish catching, and though I haven’t really recorded it – I think I am doing better by keeping it simple. As I get older, and presumably wiser, I realize that I know less than I thought I knew. In fact the idea of knowing facts has become less important to me than understanding things intuitively. Facts and reasons have become somewhat slippery in a way – they don’t seem to contain as much information as I once thought. So the facts and reasons of why to do a one-fly season are elusive to me and maybe illusory. There have been studies done that seem to show that we may have less free-will than we think we do, that we decide to do something before we realize it. I think there’s something to that. I think that often we, or at least I, act first and then come up with the reasons later. So the shortest and best answer as to “why?” is “just because”.
Even though I make no great claims about why I am doing it – I am still interested in what I may learn by doing it. I think that there is potentially a lot to learn by limiting yourself. It is discipline. So maybe at the end of my one-fly season I will have realized some truth about myself and my fishing, or maybe I will have become a better more intuitive angler, or maybe it will be a complete frustration. However it pans out – I will know something new.
Let me add that I do most of my trout fishing in small to medium sized streams, and I have always preferred fishing pocket water and riffles as opposed to deep slow pools. So the small unweighted wet fly fits in with my fishing nicely, it is not a big stretch.
The rules. I guess I should set out a few rules. I am not going to limit myself to one exact fly recipe – but rather to a general pattern. The basic pattern will be based on the Brown Hackle Peacock fly shown above. But, just to keep things a little loose – I’ll mix it up a bit. I’ll change hackle type and hook type and size, throw some loop eye flies in to the mix, some reverse hackles. But none of these changes are meant to match conditions or bugs – just meant to keep it interesting. So basically the fly will be a soft-hackled, peacock body wet-fly. I will not use added weight or bead heads. That’s it.
The one fly season has begun. I’ve managed to get out twice this year as of this writing. So below I present reports from the two trips so far.
One-Fly Season Day 1: March 9, 2013
First trip of 2013. The weather was nice. Upper 40′s , snow on the ground, but melting. This particular stream is very small – no large holes and not a very high gradient, also quite brushy, with plenty of low hanging trees, fly-hungry trees. As you see in the picture – the flow was fairly low. This stream is not typified by large deep plunge pools. The low-gradient, small free-stone, structure creates occasional small plunges with shallow, long pools. In between there are shallow runs with small pockets. These types of small mountain streams can be pretty difficult. The fish aren’t particularly selective – but they are extremely spooky. And those long smooth and shallow pools can make presentation tricky. One flubbed cast to the tail of that pool and you’ll send fish scattering up though the rest of the pool spooking anything else in there. This is a case when long tenkara rod and a light tenkara level-line is very helpful. Very delicate casts can be made with very little line hitting the water, while remaining at a safe distance.
Being the first trip – I was a little clumsy at first. It took a while to get back in fishing form. I was like a clumsy bear, emerging from hibernation hungry. I was hungry to catch fish. And too anxious. I had to tell myself to slow it down. I had a hit right away – but then nothing for a while. Finally though I got my groove on and picked up a few fish. Not great numbers, but enough to keep me happy. Actually one fish would have been enough.
I got the first hit on a size 12 peacock fly with hen pheasant hackle, but then nothing for a while. In the past I surely would have tied on a different fly but I stuck with it until I lost it high in a tree. Next we went to a size 16 Brown Hackle Peacock like the one in the top picture. Several fish came to hand right away. Ahh! I thought it was size! The fish wanted a smaller fly. However, after 3 fish I lost the size 16 in a tree. So I switched to a large reverse hackle (sakasa) fly tied on a blue Japanese bait fishing hook and finished with a red loop-eye. Third cast – bam! A fish came up to the top and smacked the fly before it even had a chance to sink. Of course I lost this fly in a few casts.
What did I learn? It’s too early to draw too many conclusions, and these were wild brookies – not exactly discriminating fish usually. But in the past I probably would have called the size 16 the best fly for the day and stuck with a smaller fly – however on this day – I tied on the next fly in the box which happened to be a much bigger, and slightly different version, and got a fish right away. Not exactly a scientific study – but also maybe not what I expected.
One-Fly Season Day 2: March 15, 2013
Well day two was pretty similar to day one – small stream, snow on the ground, very cold water. The stream was a slightly different kind of stream though. In general a bigger stream, higher canopy (more open casting room), a higher gradient, bigger in-stream rocks and boulders making bigger deeper pools and more nice pockets. I must emphasize that the water was really cold – I didn’t take a temperature reading but it was the kind of cold that makes a dipped hand ache instantly. I wasn’t expecting too much action with the cold water.
I tied on a size 14 Brown Hackle Peacock (as shown in pic at the beginning of the post). I figure I’d try the pockets for a while, just for the heck of it. Nothing. The fish didn’t seem to be hanging in the pockets yet – so on to the bigger slower pools. And that was the ticket. This stream, even though it is small, forms some nice deep pools. I skipped the deepest of these and focused on pools that I could fish more easily with my unweighted fly. I don’t remember exactly, but I think 5 or 6 fish came to hand. All were small wild brookies.
Did I learn anything? I think so. In the past I would have very likely tied on a small bead head fly – or added some split-shot to get deeper into those big pools. But it turns out that it wasn’t necessary. Perhaps I could have caught more fish if I had done so – but I caught enough to keep me happy. And because I wasn’t fiddling with changing flies and adding weight and taking weight off – and because I was focused on a certain type of water, I moved more quickly and got to see more of this new-to-me stream than I would have otherwise. I am looking forward to getting back on this water when the water warms a bit and the fish are more active – it should be good fun.
On the way out I came across some bear tracks – which weren’t there on the way in. There was a big set and at least one small set – so a mama with a cub or two. Pretty cool and a nice way to end the day, following bear tracks back to the car. Apparently I am not the only one in these woods anxious for spring.
Autumn’s here and the fishin’ is…well it can be tough sometimes actually. I got out on a “local” trout stream the other day. By local I mean about 50 miles way. It’s the closest wild trout stream that I know of. It can be a real bear. There is nothing easy about fishing it. The stream is folded into the hillside like a deep crease. To be truthful I have never had a “great” day here. It can be a physically grueling place to fish. It’s just tough to get around with the steep hillsides, dead falls and glacially deposited boulders. The stream gets the best of me most times. With respect to trout bum/poet/writer Richard Brautigan, it is not the kind of stream that can be mistaken for an old lady. It is more likely to be mistaken for a mob enforcer. It will bloody your nose, break your leg and leave you for dead. You’ll lay there wondering why you didn’t tell anyone exactly where you were going, a simple note to the wife maybe would have been a good idea. How far will my voice carry? I wonder. Will I succumb to thirst or will a pack of coyotes get me first? I wish that I’d had a donut instead of oatmeal for my last meal. These are the thoughts that go through my head as I scramble over leg breaking boulders, logs and ledges.
It is a small stream. A typically eastern small freestone stream, and so it gets low in the summer and fall. And on this trip it was still pretty low. And that was a problem. See those long shallow, slow pools in the above pic? They were tough to fish. I went with the 11-ft Tenkara USA Iwana. Perhaps a mistake. Though it’s a small stream – it has a pretty high canopy. A longer rod would probably have been a better choice – maybe even the zooming Tenkara USA Ito (13′ mostly but the 14’7″ zoom level would have even been useable here and there). Next time.
Though there were small fish, I was surprised to see that there were also plenty of bigger fish – but they were not buying what I was selling. At first I wasn’t catching (or even seeing) anything, so I had to take some of my own advice and be stealthier. It can be hard to be patient sometimes. I went to stealth mode. Walking very slowly and softly. I upped it from not seeing fish to seeing “vee-wakes” and occasional glimpses of bigger fish fleeing for their lives. Forget spooking them with a cast, I couldn’t even get near the stream.
Maybe it was just me on this particular day. Maybe it was the alignment of the stars and bad karma. But I couldn’t get the big guys to bite. Sometimes they were hanging lazy in the skinny, slow water, other times they were sulking under tree roots and boulders. Either way, they weren’t biting. The guys in the skinny water – well they were just plain tough to cast to or approach. I was reminded though of something that I know, but sometimes need to relearn. Fairly large trout can hide anywhere. It is an eye opening experience to watch a trout disappear under a flat rock on the stream bottom. A rock that looks like it couldn’t offer any safe harbor for a fish of that size. Or conversely watch a trout appear from nowhere.
And that’s what these fish would do. Like spectral visions they would suddenly be there drifting and watching a dry fly…watching…drifting…watching…then gone. If anybody ever tells you that fish on small, infertile streams never get picky…these fish were picky. I never did unravel the riddle. Was it drag, micro-drag, the wrong fly, tippet size? I can’t say. I was trying to keep it simple – so I didn’t change up a bunch. I switched from sakasa kebari wet flies to dry flies and that helped. The splat of the dry fly would draw the fish that were hiding out into the open. The splash of a potential food item would pull them from under their rocks or roots and they would either eat the fly or just watch it. Only the little guys ate it though. The bigger fellows just watched it. Oh well.
Still it was fun to watch. Why is it that we enjoy watching fish so much? What childish behavior…no not childish – childlike. It is childlike wonder, I guess. Cast a fly, watch a spotted, golden spirit slide silently from under a rock ledge. It is like conjuring. It is like magic. I guess that is what I cannot escape from. The spell of that natural childlike enthusiasm at seeing a wild thing – of interacting with a wild thing.
Still the very small trout stream seems to harbor a melancholy. In my neck of the woods it is rare and fragile. This stream is not long and when it hits the larger stream to which it is a tributary, the trout habitat is over. The larger stream is too warm to be a good trout river, it is a stocked stream which probably has some holdovers, but which doesn’t support a real trout fishery. Of course the wild trout in the little tributary stream have arisen from those stocked fish. So the little stream is a sanctuary for the trout and for me. But it is so finite. The small stream fisherman has to deal with this idea – the small stream is so apparently finite. There is no ignoring this fact. As you hike upstream it gets smaller and smaller – and this happens quickly. The big river does the same – but you can ignore it. You cannot ignore the way the tiny stream dwindles. You can fish it to its unfishable source. You can watch it disappear. You can stand in a cleft of the land and stare at the space where a stream is only an idea. An idea that the land has formed in its mind – but which it hasn’t followed up on yet. Fishing up a small stream is an activity with a catastrophic ending – it ends with annihilation of the stream itself. It makes you wonder about those who fish these smallest of streams. What does it say about us? Or maybe it’s all just about trying to catch some fish.
When I say small stream here – I’m talking small. Not small compared to a river but small compared to a small stream. This tiny stream is tucked into a rhododendron choked valley. Are the fish that it contains native strain brook trout unpolluted by our hatcheries? Probably not – but I don’t know. Defying non-existence they exist. Whether or not I fish for them they hatch, swim, spawn, die. By fishing for them I give them meaning and they give me meaning. As sweat trickles down my brow from under the brim of my hat and burns my eyes, as I (for the hundredth time) untangle the line from a branch, as I miss that subtle and lightening quick strike, as I worry about rattlers, as the stream enslaved by gravity tumbles toward union and oblivion with the river, I slowly merge into the shadowy green-ness – into a quiet “un-ness”, I complete an arabesque into sweet nothing. It can take a while, but eventually (hopefully) the million small frustrations of fly fishing a small, brushy stream will allow the shift from “going fishing” to just “being”. Forgetting the self. That is my goal. To put a strip of duct tape over that relentless internal dialog and to silence it. To move from thinking in words to thinking in actions.
The small brushy stream holds challenges for the fly fisher and the tenkara angler. Because of the longer rod – maybe more challenges for the tenkara angler. Those overhanging trees and rhododendron make casting and hook-setting very difficult. There is very rarely any place to backcast. And if you attempt to set the hook with a little too much gusto – it doesn’t take much – you will find your line, your fly and maybe your rod-tip tangled overhead.
So how do you overcome these problems? Think small. Short rods and short lines. I have two short rod options. A 7′-8″ Daiwa Soyokaze that I bought from www.tenkarabum.com, and a Tenkara USA Iwana with the short handle (making it come in at a little over 9′ long). The Daiwa has a softer tip than the Iwana. This is good and bad. The softer tip loads with a very light line. When you have room to backcast – casting a #2 fluorocarbon line is no problem at all. The light line makes for very delicate presentations – which on these small streams is paramount. But the trade-off is in the hookset. The soft tip can make hook-setting a little more difficult. I think the Iwana has the edge when it comes to setting the hook. Obviously the rod length can be an issue too, with its own tradeoffs. The shorter Soyokaze makes casting a bit easier – but you lose the reach of the longer rod. For the smallest brushiest streams, I’ll go with the short rod. If the stream is a bit more open then maybe the longer rod. The short line goes without saying. I want the line, plus tippet to be a little shorter than the rod. Not only is a short line much more manageable in the brush, but it makes the bow-and-arrow cast possible.
I think this is the smallest trout that I ever caught on a fly.
What about casting? Well on this particular stream I’d say 90% of the casting was bow-and-arrow casting. In case you are unfamiliar, the bow-and-arrow cast is done by grasping the fly at the hook bend, pulling back to bend the rod, aim the the rod at the target, and release. This cast is crucial on small brushy streams because it allows you to cast into tight spaces without a backcast. And after some practice you can get pretty accurate with this cast. The overall length of line+tippet is crucial. You’ll find that you’ll want that total length to be just a bit shorter than the rod length. If it’s too long you won’t be able to pull the fly back far enough to load the rod for casting. Too short and it’s difficult to reach the fly without choking up on the rod or setting it down behind you.
Biggest of the day. I’ve caught some bigger fish in this tiny stream, but this was the day’s trophy.
What about hook setting? When you’re under low hanging branches you’ll find hook setting a problem. A flick of the wrist, and if you miss the fish, you’ll often find your fly and your line hopelessly tangled in the snarling branches above you. Sometimes the fish hook themselves, but often they spit the fly out. For example on this day, I’d bow-and-arrow cast the fly to a tiny pool or riffle, begin a dead-drift, and the line would dodge or stop, I’d try to set the hook gently – invariably it would be too late and end up in the trees. I’d try to let them hook themselves by applying just a gentle pressure to the rod when I had a strike – but these were pretty small fish, and they would not hook themselves that way. So I went to plan C. What worked for me was this; I’d cast and when the fly hit the water I’d begin making small pulses – almost jigging the fly, kind of like a bunch of small preemptive strikes. It worked. And it worked well. I finally began hooking fish and not hooking overhanging branches. Getting the fly moving a little seemed to be just the ticket to getting positive hook-sets.
It may go without saying but stealth is crucial. These fish are not picky. They will try to eat just about any fly that will fit in their mouths. But they are spooky. You need to be sneaky. Walk slowly, avoid wading if at all possible, cast no shadows on the water, don’t shake the overhead branches, don’t let your line slap on the water and watch the tail of the pool. This can take a lot of patience and focus. But you will not catch fish if you spook them. There is no long distance casting on a stream like this – you are going to have to get close. If you’re fishing a small mountain stream like this, that you know has fish, and you’re not getting strikes then you’re not being stealthy enough. The toughest approaches on this stream were the larger pools. Often a fish would be sitting in the skinny water just at the tail end of the pool. In spite of my best efforts these fish were very difficult to fish to without spooking. Getting close enough was a big problem,and then casting too was an issue. If anything more than the fly hit the water – they were gone. Even the light #2 level line was plenty to spook them. The heads of the pools offered a nice bit of broken water making the approach much easier.
The fish are small – there is no glory of big fish here. There is no hatch-matching. There is no technical midge fishing. It is a different set of challenges, but this is perhaps some of the toughest fishing I do. On these tiny, brushy streams, I feel like I work harder for fish than just about anywhere.
Last week I went to Pennsylvania’s Spring Creek in Centre County. Spring Creek, a limestone stream, is fairly rich in trout foods. It is also the kind of stream, that can be pretty tough at times. It’s not a mountain brookie stream. I’ve never have much luck walking along prospecting with an attractor dry-fly on Spring Creek. When there’s no hatch you go under with a nymph. Usually,when I’ve been successful it has been during hatches,matching the hatch, or during non hatch periods using a fly that represents a common food on Spring Creek. The go-to fly for me has often been something that imitates a sow bug. Lately, however, I’m leaning to the idea that when there’s no hatch going on, the important thing is getting the fly in front of the fish (while not spooking them), rather than any specific fly. Specific pattern may not be as important as I previously thought – within bounds obviously – and with the exception that sometimes it matters. Pattern vs. presentation and all that…you know the arguments – I suspect the discussion on that topic will never end. So who knows? Rather than deal in generalities, let’s just say the last few times out on Spring Creek, I’ve been fishing generic nymphs and catching enough fish to keep it interesting.
I’ve never really stuck to “traditional tenkara” flies on Spring Creek – I’m not sure why. Old habits, I reckon. So this time out I decided to give it a go. We got on the stream in the afternoon – it had been raining, but was now intermittently drizzly with some sun here and there. Generally fairly gray and dreary. Good fishing weather in other words. The stream in this section consists of flat sections interspersed with a short riff – and a slightly deeper faster run, then flat smooth water again.
I started fishing dead-drifting through a riffle with size 12 Red Takayama Sakasa Kebari – and suprise! A fish. Then nothing for a while, then bang! Another one hit while the fly was on a rising swing. Occasionally risers were picking off some kind of emergers. I never caught a bug – but they were tiny and most likely some type of BWO. So, I switched from dead-drifting to purposefully lifting the fly while it was in a fishy looking spot. And it worked. I caught maybe six fish out of one small pocket. Every riser that I saw gave the Takayama a hit. I “matched” a tiny BWO with a size 12 red Takayama Sakasa Kebari. Notch one up for technique over fly. Of course, I’ve been fly fishing long enough not draw too many conclusions from one incident.
The most important thing in any fly fishing outing is dinner. We hit the Big Bowl Noodle House in State College for a delicious and nutritious ending to the day. I opted for noodle soup with pork dumplings, spring roll, and steamed buns. Yum.
I’m a little late to the party, as most folks have long since posted their Tenkara Summit 2012 experiences and have probably moved on. But since my motto is “I have not yet begun to procrastinate” here you have the beginning of my Tenkara Summit 2012 Series. There isn’t much that I love more than a road trip. A Slim-Jim, caffeine, and Jalapeno-Cheddar ChexMix fueled rampage through the Southwest – what could be better? Fishing and roadtripping are twins in my book. One without the other just isn’t the same, so when they get paired up it is pure heaven. The freedom of the road, without any other distractions is akin to time on the stream for me – they are both an exercise in just “being”. So, sure I could have flown directly to Salt Lake City and met my pal Jeff there. But what’s the fun in that? Jeff was on a family vacation in Colorado and New Mexico so I flew into Albuquerque to meet up and then we made the journey up to Salt Lake City and the Tenkara Summit together. That way we got to talk more, reminisce about the old days and geek-out about books, music and movies. So what music on this leg of the trip? Well I know it’s obvious but “The Joshua Tree” by U2 was the unofficial soundtrack for this leg of the journey. Sure, the Anton Corbijn photography from the album cover was shot in California and not Utah, but the parched desert themes, big-sky production quality and nostalgia factor made it a good backing track.
On the first day we got to Moab,UT. We stopped for the night and then did a quick tour of Arches National Park in the morning before heading to the Salt Lake Area. Of course the scale and majesty of a place like Arches NP is so very difficult to capture on film (or CCD sensor). We didn’t spend much time in Arches. But we got a taste of it. I wish that my kids had been here for this, they would have love scrambling around on the rocks here.
We got to our campsite in the Spruces Campground in the Big Cottonwood Canyon sometime in the afternoon, set up camp and then went out for a bit of fishing – finally. We hit the Big Cottonwood Creek, and I of course failed to take any pictures. The section of BCC that we fished was moving nicely but was fairly brushy. I couldn’t get my mojo working and I had my self convinced that there were no fish in the stream. However we happened upon some other tenkara anglers and they were having better luck. We bumped into the Tenkara Guides, along with Daniel Galhardo of Tenkara USA, Masaki and the Japanese tenkara contingent which included Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, Kiyoshi Ishihara, Masami Tanaka, and Eiji Yamakawa. I watched Dr. Ishigaki fish a pool that Jeff and I had just fished through – of course he pulled out a nice brown trout. Eiji commented that the fishing was too easy with many more fish (compared to Japan). Fishing was wrapping up so after some arm twisting we were convinced to go out for some pizza with the crew. The evening ended on a high note as we missed the “curfew” at the campground and found the gate closed. Apparently the gate closes at 10:00 PM – I have never stayed in a public campground with a curfew. So we had to park on the road and hoof it into the campsite. We decided to leave the cooler and food at the campsite instead of dragging it back to the truck on the side of the highway, so as a result, I lay there all night worrying that I was going to be eaten by bears (I wasn’t). Stay tuned for more Tenkara Summit 2012 posts…
From L to R: Eiji Yamakawa, Kiyoshi Ishihara, Masami Tanaka, Masaki, John Vetterli, Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, Daniel Galhardo and Jeff Wolford. I regret that I didn’t get a picture of myself with these guys!
Tenkara USA Amago:The Amago is a 13.5 ft rod. It’s the second longest rod offered by Tenkara USA, only the Ito is longer. The Amago is rated as a 6:4 action (a “medium” action rating on the Tenkara Action Index) – I don’t have enough experience with enough rods to comment on the relative action too much – but I’ll say that I found the Amago to have plenty of backbone. Unfortunately I didn’t hook into any huge fish, but it handled some 14-inchers with no problem at all, bringing them in quickly. I found that it cast both the new heavier, Tenkara USA Traditional furled line and a fluorocarbon level line with ease (more on lines later). The Amago is a beautiful rod. The unadulterated black matte finish is perfect – all rods should be matte black in my opinion. When I unpacked the rod at home for the first time and extended it to its 13.5-ft length I had to laugh – that’s a long rod. However, on the stream I was glad for the extra length. I have to agree with those that say to choose the longest rod that you can use on any particular stream. However, if the streams that you fish have a lot of over-hanging trees, then a 13.5-ft rod will likely be too long. Yellow Creek, in the area that I fished, is a medium sized stream, maybe 40 feet across on average, with mature trees lining the banks, with very few low-hanging branches over the stream. It’s a perfect tenkara stream and the 13.5-ft Amago matched the stream very nicely.
I do have one complaint about the Amago though – the grip design. The Amago is a long rod, and I found that the grip design did not work for me as well as I’d like. The Amago has a relatively small grip diameter, and except for the end, it is pretty much an un-contoured design. Maybe other anglers will have a different experience, but I found that the small diameter and flat profile did not fit my hand well and by the end of the day I was suffering from some hand fatigue. I couldn’t seem to find a hand position that allowed my index finger to rest along the grip (see pic to right), and the result was that I had to squeeze the grip more tightly. I believe that the Amago would benefit from a larger diameter, more contoured grip, like a reverse half-wells grip, similar to the Iwana II series.
In conclusion, the Amago makes a nice addition to my tenkara rod quiver. Because of it’s length, I would call the Amago a “specialist”, not as versatile as a 12-ft rod. Unless you fish larger, mostly wide-open streams I’m not sure I’d recommend the Amago as your sole tenkara rod. If you’re looking to expand your selection to a big-fish, big-stream rod then I would surely recommend the Amago. That said, I’m in the process of investigated ways to modify the grip to fit my hand better. I’m thinking of wrapping with leather or neoprene to create a larger diameter contoured grip.
Tenkara USA Traditonal Line (new version): Recently Tenkara USA changed up the design on their traditional tenkara lines. They are made of a new material (kevlar I believe – don’t quote me though). The new line is supple and very visible (which can be a good thing when tenkara fishing). On this day I fished the Amago with the 13-ft line (it comes in a 10.5-ft version too). So how does it perform? Well, this was only my second outing with the line – but I think my decision is in. First the good. The line is highly visible, and casts very easily with little effort. I had a little wind and it handled it well (I still haven’t fished it in very windy conditions though). As a major plus it does not get all hinky and uncoiled when snagged. If you’ve fished the older Tenkara USA lines or other furled leaders or lines you know what I mean. The new line doesn’t have any problems like that. Now the bad. The line is heavy. In tenkara fishing it is desirable to be able to keep the entire line off of the water at a distance. Light lines are easier to keep off the water at longer distances. But light lines are harder to cast, especially with wind. Achieving a perfect line design is a is a balancing between these two opposing goals. This line is tilted a little to far to the heavy end for me. I found it very difficult to fish at a distance. I would cast out, lift my arm high to keep the line off of the water and the line would tend to drag back toward me. I just couldn’t fish at a distance. Secondly, the line sinks pretty rapidly. In some circumstances, such as with overhanging trees, you may not be able to keep the rod high enough to keep the line off of the water. In these cases I find that I like a line that floats (like nylon level line or a floating furled line) or doesn’t sink too quickly (fluoro isn’t too bad). This new line sinks pretty rapidly. And that combined with it’s high visibilty makes for fish spooking in my opinion. So for my fishing preferences and fishing locales this line is just not ideal. And on this day my fishing success was much greater with a fluorocarbon level line. This line’s going into the pack to be reserved for windy days.
L.L.Bean Gray Ghost Wading Boots:The Gray Ghost wading boot by L.L.Bean is a rubber-soled boot. I have the studded version ($139), but you can get it without studs too($119). I don’t have too much to say except that I love these boots. I have no complaints. They are comfortable, light and most importantly I didn’t slip once even on mossy rocks and other slick substrates. The look well made – but only time will tell how they hold up.
Purple flies and my “One-fly”: That’s right purple. I’m not sure where I first heard tale of purple wet flies, probably it was with the Snipe and Purple traditional soft-hackle. Here’s a good video from Davie McPhail on tying this. With respect to tenkara flies the first time I heard it mentioned was probably by ERiK Ostrander of TenkaraGuides. ERiK ties a fly that he calls the Purple Haze Kebari (watch him tie it). This is where I got the inspiration for my purple kebari, which is essentially the same thing except that I used purple Pearsall’s Gossamer silk thread instead of sewing thread as ERiK does. So does it work? Well, all day long there was a sparse hatch of tiny (maybe size 26) BWO’s coming off and in one big pool (see the pic at the top of the post), there were some fish taking emergers (they were pretty much ignoring the floating duns). I took a few on tiny emerger patterns and then figured I’d give the purple kebari a try. In short order I brought two more sippers to hand on a size 16 purple kebari, even during BWO hatch activity – make of it what you will.
However, the real winner of the day, and I’d have to say, the year was the good old brown-hackle peacock wetfly. My version is basically a classic wetfly pattern – however most other dressings have a tag of red wool or red hackle tips – I use a brown hackle-tip tail in mine. I’ve been using this simple pattern as my go-to tenkara “one-fly” for the past two seasons and it has been very productive for me. I generally use them in size 12 through 16. Many tenkara fishers in Japan have a signature fly pattern that they fish almost exclusively – I am officially declaring my signature fly the brown-hackle peacock.
The pattern is simply:
brown rooster hackle tail
gold wire rib
brown hen-hackle collar
tied on a heavy wet-fly hook.
Disclosure: I bought the Tenkara USA Amago and Traditional lines at a slight discount from retail. I purchased the L.L. Bean wading boots at full retail.
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