“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.
So it has been a while since I put this collaborative project into motion – but it is done. It is the Wintertime Blues. I won’t say too much about it you can read all about it in the thing itself…painting, poetry, essays, photography, comedy, drama and etc. and sundry….
There is a list of all 15 contributors at the end of the document…
Feel free to share, but only non-commercially of course. And all the rights belong to the artists and authors.
Fortune smiled and gifted me with a delightful evening on the local small waterway. No insects of the biting kind were in evidence and the air temperature was of such a degree that it was warmly pleasant but tempered by cool crepuscular breezes. I found myself in successful contest with fishes of 5 species: Catostomus commersonii, Lepomis cyanellus, Micropterus dolomie, Ambloplites rupestris and Lepomis macrochirus. Except for C. commersonii they were all sunfish of the family Centrarchidae, C. commersonii being one of the Cypriniformes, an order that includes carp, minnows and loaches. What they all five have in common though, is that they are all native to my local environs.
When you use latin it makes everything classier right? Maybe not. Here’s what I caught in plain English; a white sucker, some green sunfish, a few smallmouth bass, a couple of rock bass and a bluegill or two. Woo-Hoo! It’s like a grand-slam(+1) right? But nobody brags about this kind of thing though do they? When you catch a trout grand-slam in a stream it’s pretty cool though, and you might mention it. A trout grand-slam would be something like brown, rainbow, brook and cuttthroat, right? Here’s the thing though – that combo is of course is not possible without stocked fish, or wild but non-native fish. It’s not natural. I could be wrong but I doubt that there’s any stream in which you could catch four native species of trout (if I’m wrong please let me know). Perhaps if you include salmon it’s more possible, I’m not sure.
The point is that I can drive a few minutes to small local warmwater stream and have an evening of catching fish on the fly rod (or tenkara rod as was the case). I can readily catch 5 or 6 species of native fish all in the same stretch of stream. And most put a nice bend in the rod. Pound for pound, the sunfish family fights better than any trout.
Is it a compromise? Or is it a promise. I used to think the former but now I say the latter. In the not too recent past I looked to the warmwater stream as a big compromise. Don’t get me wrong, I still love small stream, mountain stream, trout fishing. It is still my favorite kind of fishing. But I don’t view the local wamwater waterway as the compromise that I used to. It is a waterway full of promise. It used to be akin to an open sewer, a stream despoiled by industrial pollution, acid mine drainage, sewage. It still bears the scars of these former assaults, and judging by the presence of some high-water sewage overflow warnings it still suffers. But it has come back from the brink to be a decent little stream. The smallmouth aren’t huge – but they are there, along with many other fly catchable fish. Like the stream itself these denizens are survivors. They are natives. They belong here. Which cannot be said for many of the trout in Pennsylvania and all across the country. I don’t want to be preachy and I don’t mean that as any kind of indictment. Things are what they are. Some fish have been put where they don’t belong. Perhaps it was ignorant and in hindsight destructive but it is what it is.
The thing that struck me when I was fishing this stream and catching these fish is that, not only is it not a compromise but it is a privilege to be able to do so. These small streams and the native fish that live in them deserve our respect as tenkara anglers, fly fishers or whatever kind of angler you are. To catch these fish roots you in the present and connects you to the to the past.
A little while ago I headed to a small stream in my little corner of the world (Southwestern Pennsylvania). This brook is a vassal stream of the mighty Youghiogheny River. The Youghiogheny or Yough (pronounced Yock) begins in West Virgina then flows north through western Maryland and continues northwesterly to join the Monongahela River southwest of Pittsburgh. It is generally believed that the Yough got its name from a native American term meaning “A Stream which flows in a contrary direction”. I think that’s a great name for a river – and I can relate to it, as I often feel like I’m traveling in a contrary direction compared to those around me.
So I parked in the lot, grabbed my stuff, 11-ft Tenkara USA Iwana, small fishing waist pack, larger pack for lunch and coffee thermos, and headed off down the trail full of expectations. The air was filled with the scent of pine and fallen leaves, so different than the suburbs. Often I exit my house to be confronted by a smell like burning brakes. I think this is from the steel plant over the hill – but I can’t be positive. Smells are so integral to our experience and so evocative and yet so often overlooked when we consider our experiences. When I think of the time that I lived in Maine I think of two smells – the sweet, astringent aroma of balsam and the slightly corrupted smell of ocean aerosols and lowtides. Other smells evoke other times and places.
Eventually I could hear the stream off to my right and down in a small valley. I could hear it but it was totally obscured by hopelessly, monstrously tangled rhododendron – the kind of rhododendron thicket that has you crawling on your hands and knees, praying that the snakes and bears are indeed more scared of you than you are of them. It was going to be tough fishing. The first bridge crossing that I came to revealed two anglers wading midstream – well that’s one way to tackle the brush I guess – but I hate to wade these types of streams at any time and especially in the fall, you know spawning trout and all. I don’t want to sound too judgemental and high-minded on this point though as some may question whether I should have been fishing at all at this time of the year – well that is a fair question, and frankly I have mixed feelings. I don’t do it so very often and I figure my impact is pretty small in the grand scheme – but nonetheless…at least I was not trampling all through the stream (maybe just a rationalization on my part). So with this section of the stream accounted for I moved on upstream to give the others some room.
Finally I found a few openings that I could navigate a bit easier. Now came the challenge – casting an 11-ft rod in tight brush. Easier said than done. Approaching the stream close enough to cast was a clumsy, crawling, scrambling over things, affair. Finally getting to the stream side I had no confidence that I didn’t spook every fish within 50 feet. So I would sort of weave the rod out over the stream and using a bow-and-arrow cast send the fly to the water (hopefully). Success was not forthcoming. I’m pretty sure that snagging the low-hanging branches and the subsequent shaking to free the fly was not helping in the stealth department. As expected this was tough going but fun anyway.
A little further on I finally found a spot where the stream spilled into a “large” pool and the canopy opened enough to allow a short-stroked side-arm cast of sorts. Still not easy but better. Crawling up to the stream and casting I finally found success on a size 14 Parachute Adams – a beautiful resplendent male brookie in full fall array. That’s what it’s all about. Certainly not the largest trout I’ve caught – but ranking right up there on the satisfaction scale.
The celebration didn’t last long. Somewhere in the landing of the fish I managed to snap the second segment of the tenkara rod. Kneeling down I had laid the rod across my thighs and, I think, my elbow came down on the rod to break it. Total user error – I want to make clear – not equipment failure. So that was the little bit of fishing that I was allowed that day, oh well it was a nice spot to sit for lunch anyway. As a footnote Tenkara USA has an easy system for getting the rod repaired. You can order the replacement parts online (for a very small fee), and so within a few days I was back in business for a lot less $$ and time than many other rod warranty deals, which usually require you to send the rod back.
Originally published in 1999 this version of Brook Trout and the Writing LifeThe intermingling of fishing and writing in a novelist’s life is newly expanded, though it is still a fairly slim volume at 145 pages. Brook Trout is writer and fly fisher Craig Nova’s memoir and to be absolutely truthful I had some trepidation about this book based on the title. Fly fishing writers can sometimes be guilty of imbuing the act of fly fishing with too much meaning, meaning that really doesn’t exist. Every part of the fishing act becomes a metaphor. This kind of writing can work, but often it becomes too heavy handed and forced for my taste. Mr. Nova avoids that trap with ease and grace. In Nova’s own words from the preface:
Of course, this book was never really about fishing. I meant it to be about people I cared for and about the passage of time.
And so it is. The act of fly fishing and it’s quarry the trout are a sort of mnemonic device that allow Nova to reach back through time and locate the memories that he wants to share. Fly fishing is not shoe horned and bullied into meanings. Instead the fly fishing stories in the book act more like the lepidopterist’s pins, piercing and holding a life-long collection of otherwise fleeting memories. For instance the story of his first brook trout is used as a backdrop for the story of how he met his future wife. The memory of his early romance is intermingled beautifully and naturally with the fishing. While reading I was often left with the feeling that I discovered something hidden and maybe even natural, native and organic. But I’m sure it is all very carefully crafted writing, extremely subtle and rewarding, such as in this passage:
One Saturday morning I got up early and went out with the fly rod. It was foggy when I got to the wood road, and when I came to the seep, the mist in the woods was filled with slanting rays of light as you might see in a dusty room, the lines defined by the long streaks of shadows made by the spruce and hemlock that grew on the steep sides of the hill. I followed the rill. In the mist, which was a little cool, and in that light, which came in as through a cathedral window, I thought of the warmth of the space under the blanket where Christina was sleeping.
In those days, I really didn’t know what I was doing in the fishing department, but at least I had some notion of the theoretical aspects of catching fish on a fly.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Craig Nova’s writing is peaceful and graceful, never heavy-handed. It is like a peaceful day alone on the the stream, winding along casting, picking up a fish here and there. Just as fly fishing is for him, the author has created a book that is a respite, a place to be quietly lost for a while. This book is first a personal memoir and second a book about fly fishing. But there is plenty for the fly fisherman to enjoy in its pages.
Prior to the trip two days ago it had been a few weeks since I was last on the water. Things have finally settled down weather-wise a little bit. I know rain is a good thing for the most part, but the rain has made spring fishing a bit difficult here in PA (a small inconvenience in the grand scheme of things). Streams have been flowing high – while spirits may have been sagging. Nature has a way of doing her own thing, in spite of our wishes. Most likely With the perspective afforded by time and space, in the late summer, we will look back longingly at this weather and then fold our hands and pray for rain. I have been reminded this spring that if you are a person who stakes his happiness on the whims of weather and bugs and of fish then you are indeed bound to be disappointed a great deal of the time. For these things take no notice of men and if they do occasionally consent to align themselves just so, and provide a sublime day of perfect fishing, do not confuse this with obeisance or even acknowledgement.
The weather was beautiful however, and the stream, Yellow Creek in Bedford County, Pennsylvania was in good shape. Perhaps it was flowing higher and faster than I would have it, but eminently fishable. I’m reminded of a story that I heard. A man was in a diner eating breakfast and he liked to have ample sugar in his morning coffee. Glancing at the sugar shaker he saw that level was getting low. So rather than risk running out he waved the waitress over and asked for more sugar. The waitress looked at the sugar and then said “Honey, before I bring you more sugar you got to stir the sugar that you got.” And so looking at the stream, which was not perfect, I decided to stir the sugar that I had.
I was going tenkara for this trip – which is now my go to small stream mode these days. The rod of choice was the new Iwana Series II 11-ft from Tenkara USA. This is a sweet rod, light and easy to cast. I miss the reach of a 12-ft rod a little, but when fishing under overhanging trees, the 11-ft rod is a little easier to keep out of the branches. Speaking of which, I started fishing tenkara with furled lines but have since switched to level lines. I couldn’t stand the way the furled lines became all hinky after being pulled from an over hanging branch. The line that I had on during this trip was Tenkara USA #3.5 level line. According the T-USA website the #3.5 line is a fluorocarbon line approximately equivalent to 12-lb line. I will say that the clear line can be difficult to get used to. There are two problems with the clear line: 1) it’s hard to see where the line ends and the tippet begins. Therefore it’s hard to know exactly how much tippet is subsurface; 2) it’s just plain hard to see the line. This leads to problems with casting accuracy (if you can’t see your line very well then you don’t know where your cast is hitting the water) and strike detection. I like to watch the portion of my leader where it enters the water for any hesitation that indicates a strike, if I can’t see it i can’t do that. The solution that I used on this trip was to attach an 18″ section of hi-vis yellow mono to the end of my line before the tippet. This solution worked out pretty well. I could see my casts a little better and when I cast I could lift the rod until I saw the yellow and I knew exactly where the tippet began and I could also watch the yellow section for strikes. Well enough of the technical detail…
Bugs were fluttering around the stream – little black stones, black caddis, orange craneflies – but the fish were not in evidence. There were only a few surface rises that I saw. So I went subsurface with a tandem of a soft-hackle dropper and size 16 shop-vac point fly. The shop-vac was the winner. I began picking up fish on the shop-vac right away. I don’t prefer the tenkara set-up for dredging the bottoms of deep pools and runs so I concentrated on the heads of the pools and on the pocket water above. Nice fish came to hand from water that many folks walk past or walk through or stand in to cast to the pools.
I am a pocket water addict. Fishing pocket water is what heaven might be like. The rushing sound of it creates a cozy nest of white noise to compete with the static and rush of the world. Moving along step by step, each step a challenge in the current and the ankle breaking rocks, each step a tactical decision and a small victory. Pocket water is full of possibilities, the fish can be anywhere. The water is so full of soft-spots where a fish can sit and wait and then tilt a fin, move a few inches and suck a bug in. And the depth is nice too – not too deep, not too shallow. A well-fished size 16 bead head sinks nicely and doesn’t snag up too often, but gets deep enough to matter. Add to the pocket water a tenkara rod and now you’ve got it made.
The shop-vac has been a good producer for me this spring. I’ve used it here on Yellow Creek and on Spring Creek with good results. It makes a nice tenkara fly in my opinion. It is not too heavy, but just heavy enough and the slim profile sinks quickly (especially when powered in with a nice tuck cast). The white antron tuft is, I believe, a great attraction to the fish. I like to tie them both with and without tails. I believe the shop-vac was created by the folks at Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone.
The shop-vac was my magic fly. The problem with magic flies is that they always run out, especially if they’re nymphs. Magic is fleeting and hard to contain. Sometimes we are the aerial that attracts the magic and for a brief time we are the king of the stream, catching fish when nobody else is (no that that matters to us high-brow fly anglers), but then we lose the last magic fly…and then what? The problem for me when a fly is working so well is that when I have run out of that fly I can’t decide what to put on next. I put on this then that then another thing, then panic sets in and I lose all confidence and just go through the motions casting with no heart and no conviction, telling myself that I need to go home and tie more size 16 shop-vacs! And then…finally a fish takes pity and eats another fly, in this case it’s a fly I call the big-fat caddis. I tied them up to match a hideously fat and juicy looking caddis larva that I found on the Yampa at Stagecoach.
I think it looks pretty realistic when wet and a couple of fish thought so too. It’s basically just bunny fur with gold ribbing and a head of dark brown dyed bunny with some hares mask mixed in for legginess. After ribbing with the tinsel rough it up a little.
I don’t really like snakes all that much. This little fellow can swimming down the current in a hair-raising way that snakes have. He hit the bank and immediately climbed a tree. Creepy. So now I need to watch out for snakes, on the bank, in the water and in the trees. Great. It was just a black rat snake – so, not dangerous. But if that thing had come down the stream toward me while I was in the water…well it wouldn’t have been pretty.
I ended the day in the same spot that I started and picked up another on a size 18 black midge pupa. All in all a fun day on the stream. Conditions were not good for traditional tenkara flies – but the western flies stepped in and saved the day. East and west working together.
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