“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.
Some of you all may remember, back in May I had a photo contest. The winner got a fly box and an original woodcut based on the photo. Well, the fly box went out right away. The woodcut, not so much. Well it’s done – finally.
The winner of the contest Treven Kuhn will be getting a matted original woodcut in the mail soon. His photo of tenkara fishing on the Gunpowder River in Maryland is a great picture. In addition to capturing the spirit of American Tenkara, the image is interesting visually. At the time I thought that it would lend itself to the graphic treatment of a woodcut – I think that it worked out. I hope that you all think so too. I just want to say thanks to Treven and to all the others that participated.
Details and Ordering info: The original woodcut is totally hand crafted and hand printed using oil-based ink on handmade Japanese Kitakata paper. Each print is hand rubbed, no printing press used. Each print is matted, hand numbered and signed. The image is approximately 8″ x 8″ and the Matted Print is 11″ x 14″.
I’ve made a very limited edition of 12 prints. Two are taken – as of this writing there are 10 available.
Price: $35 which includes shipping. Payments via paypal. Note that you can use a credit card at Paypal without creating a paypal account.
If you have any questions email me at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
A while back I tested out a couple of the tenkara lines being made by John Vetterli (of Tenkara Guides in UT). These lines are based on the line design of Eiji Yamakawa of Japan. They are a tapered fluorocarbon “furled” line. I put “furled” in quotes because they are not constructed the same as most furled lines that you’ll find. Rather than being made by a single diameter line which is furled upon itself in various configurations to create a tapered line, these are tapered by using various diameter lines in series. The result is a lighter more supple line than most.
So how do they fish? I fished a 32′ and a 16′ model from John (I haven’t had a chance to fish the hi-viz nylon one yet). A quick word here – I wanted to test these lines out as dry fly lines mostly, so after a few casts with the lines to see how they floated alone, I greased them up with Loon Payette floatant. The lines floated superbly after being treated with the floatant. Most other furled lines that I’ve tried are either too heavy or too stiff, or both, for my liking. These lines are much lighter than other commercially available lines (that I’ve seen), and are fairly supple. They are also very easy to cast, perhaps easier than casting a level line, but that’s subjective.
Casting the 16′ line was effortless and intuitive. The 32′ line took a little more focus. Mostly because I’m not used to casting that much line on a tenkara rod. But after a few minutes casting I got adjusted to the 32′ line. Though I have to say I cannot imagine fishing with that much line in general – it’s castable but I wonder about subsurface strike detection, and hook set (especially subsurface) at that distance. Plus most places that I fish are much too small for that much line. Also with the 32′ line I was not able to get any sort of tuck cast to power a wetfly into the water. The line always hit first with a softly descending fly following. Great for dry flies – maybe not so much if you’re trying to get a fly deeper. My thoughts on the 32′ line is that it casts very nicely and could be great for dry fly fishing, maybe especially for lakes.
In general I preferred the shorter (16′) line. I was able to cast and mend (aerial and otherwise) with it nicely. So it worked great for traditional tenkara techniques (line off of the water) as well as western-style dry fly fishing (line on the water). The 16′ or maybe a 20′ line could easily become my go-to dry fly tenkara line. For me, the advantage of these lines over level line mono-filament fluorocarbon lines, for dry fly fishing is that with a treatment of floatant they float beautifully. If you’ve ever tried to fish dry flies at a distance with a flurocarbon level line or a heavy furled line you’ll know the problem. You cast out, hold the line off of the water (in tenkara style) and the line sags and drags the dry fly back toward you. A floating line eliminates this problem. Rather than hold the line off of the water you can just let it lay on the water, and use mends. Essentially you’re now doing western-style dry fly fishing with a tenkara rod – but it works. So as a traditional tenkara line or as a dry-fly line these lines can do a nice job.
In short, finding your favorite rod and line combo is a very personal thing, the only way to find what you really like is to experiment with different combinations. If you’ve been unhappy with furled tenkara lines, you may like these lines much better than what you’ve tried in the past.
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.
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