Sunday, March 26, 2017

Adding 'Wonkiness' to Your Kebari

Because I have been tying my own flies since 1993, my sense of craft and tidiness are always at the fore.  I don't claim to be a great tier, but I have noticed improvements over time and I take pride in consistency when I am cranking out a half dozen or more of some pattern. I am clearly aware that the need to make every fiber or hair lay just right, or every rib wrap have equidistant spacing is more for my pleasure than for the fish.  How many times have you heard someone say a pattern doesn't begin to fish well until it's been beat up by a few fish?

In my tenkara, I am finding that I derive the most pleasure from fishing it as was intended, with lightly weighted or unweighted flies, relying on stealth, skill, and manipulation.  As I continue to settle into this comfort zone, I have been absorbing Discover Tenkara's free and paid content (which I couldn't begin to recommend enough.)  There are two films dedicated to kebari, both in tying and practical application.  One thing that stands out when watching these films is the haphazard way that some very skilled and very experienced tenkara anglers tie their patterns.  They take the attributes that make a beat up fly so attractive to fish, and incorporate them from the get-go.  On the first viewing I cringed, but after multiple viewings, I began to see that something really interesting was going on. Back at the vise, I tied up a simple kebari in my favorite style, jun with short cock hackle and a dubbed body.  I just let myself go, wrapping bare thread over the previously dubbed areas, using a half-hitch tool to press the hackle back from the eye.  You may laugh, but it was incredibly difficult to be messy!!

Bare thread over dubbed body equals shudders!

 Another kebari from the DT series that caught my eye was a pattern tied by Makino-san.  The entire fly is formed from one feather, in the case of the video, a partridge feather.  The body is composed of the flue from the bottom of the feather.  This is the fuzzy, downey stuff that we typically strip off before tying in the feather.  Makino-san takes the flue, laying in on the hook shaft, and lets the thread do the rest.  "Anything goes" as he says in the video.  The result is a very buggy looking fly.  I found a random ringneck pheasant feather on the floor of my tying room, and thought, "why not give it a go?"

I was really pleased with the results, as I was able to achieve a buggy body, striking a nice balance between being haphazard and working with care.  I tied this particular pattern in the sakasa, or reverse hackle style for no reason other than whimsy.

To conclude this little experiment, I tested the patterns on some North Georgia wild trout.  I opened my little mint tin, selected one of these flies at random, and well, the results were favorable:

One of my favorite tiers has been Fran Betters. I have heard him described as a poor tier, but I have seen examples of his personal patterns versus ones he tied for his shop, and I don't think this is the case.  His personal flies are messy, out of proportion, and well, super-buggy.  To me they always looked un-godly-fishy straight from the vise.  Its funny to come full circle to this through tenkara, but no matter how you come to it, I think there are some valuable tying lessons here.  Add a little wonkiness to your kebari, or any pattern for that matter, and see if it adds to your tenkara experience. The goal is to add to, and never detract from your experience and education on your personal tenkara journey.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Furled Tenkara Lines

I really enjoy watching a fluorocarbon level line slowly unfurl from the rod tip in its graceful loop, stretching out and lightly dropping the fly first.  I also enjoy how how little sag is in the line when keeping the line off of the surface of the water.  There are some situations where I look at a furled line as a useful tool.  I also understand that some people like furled lines because of the way that they cast.  As with everything in tenkara, it all comes down to personal preference.

One thing that I have discovered over the past few years is that not all furled lines are created equal. Here are a few of the furled lines that I have tried, and a few thoughts about them.  Again, bear in mind that some quality I may like about a line may be the very thing you dislike.  I think you have to cast different lines until you find one that suits your temperament and casting style.  It's really not something you can "group-think."  Another thing to remember is that comparing them to level lines is like comparing apples and oranges.  Furled lines are going to sag more, and it takes a little more doing to keep them off the water.  Some are just too heavy to not keep 6-12" anchored on the surface. They definitely load the rod a little more (whereas casting a level line typically depends on the rod to do the work), which is something some people prefer, especially if coming from a background of 'western' fly-fishing.  Loading the rod can also be beneficial especially if it has a stiff profile, like some keiryu rods.

Tenkara USA "Traditional Line"

I bought the first generation of this line with my first tenkara rod, which was an 11' Iwana.  I think it was made of furled nylon, but I can't remember. I do remember thinking it was the bees knees until I bought a light level line, and then not so much  I gave this one away to a friend, and bought the second iteration that was made of furled kevlar.  I still have this line, though I don't really fish it anymore.  In fact I haven't fished it in so long, I don't think I could give a very fair assessment of it.  I remember it casting graceful loops and turning over a dry-fly very well.  I also remember it being on the heavier side, especially when wet.  I know a lot of people fish and love this line. I keep it in my chest pack at all times, however, as an emergency backup line (in case I forgot a line or something blows up).

Horsehair Line

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I finally got around to twisting a couple of horsehair lines, mainly as a winter project.  I took it fishing and fell in love with the way it casted, especially on my 9 foot Iwana, which is crisp but not overly stiff.  I mainly fish this combo when I know that the monster trout of the stream is going to be about 6" or so.  I recently added a floro sighter to the end, as the white of the hair is easy to lose in some lighting conditions. I also started conditioning my 9 foot line with Mane and Tail conditioner, but if that makes a difference or not remains to be seen.  My 9 foot line is made up of four sections, going from five to three strands of hair.  There is some slight sag, but it is light enough to keep off the water with ease, and delicate fly first presentations are a snap. Horsehair lines are not very durable, at least not compared to modern materials.  I have broken a section on my 12 foot line, but fortunately repairs are easy.

Zen Outfitters Level Furled Line

A fly shop in a nearby town recently went out of business, and while that is unfortunate, I did pick up a some great tying materials at a fraction of the price.  This line was also half off, so I figured I wasn't really losing much by giving it a try.  The line I purchased is about 13 feet in length, and appears to be made of furled monofilament.  It is a bright green color, and is pretty easy to see in most conditions.  The packaging states that the line is treated with some kind of floating treatment.  The line actually does float, though after a bit of fishing the tip of mine will sink a little.  The line is heavier than any of my other furled or twisted lines, and will load a pretty stiff rod.  I have casted it on both my Tanuki 375 and Oni 450, which are on the stiffer side, and this line will load fairly deep into the rod.  With that weight comes a great deal of sag, and I have found it best to keep about 6-12 inches of the line anchored in the water.  I don't fish this line very much, because it doesn't really mesh well with the way I like to use tenkara.  But the line does have a few benefits that could be useful from time to time.  Because of its weight, the line will punch through some pretty decent wind. On those windy days, especially on an open tailwater, anchoring that first bit of line on the water is nice.  No one likes having the wind blow their line up and out of the water, fly and all, dangling like yesterday's laundry.  And because it actually floats, I could see dry fly enthusiasts liking this line. The shop also had an eight foot version, and I've kinda kicked myself for not getting it. I think it would have loaded my Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 24 enough to feel like it was actually casting!  That reminds me of another benefit to furled/twisted lines: on really small streams, in spots where casting loops becomes problematic, the slighter heft can provide nice turnover for aerial roll casts or bow-and-arrow casts, especially in the wind that tends to blow through these tunnels.

Sebata Line

After being delighted with the horsehair line, I was wondering if it would be possible to replicate the feel with modern materials.  While I have yet to twist any monofilament or fluorocarbon, I decided to purchase a twisted line as a frame of reference.  I almost purchased a Nissin line, but when Tenkara-ya offered another round of the furled Sebata-san lines, I couldn't resist.  I purchased the 3.8m, but I wish I had also gotten the 4.5m as well.  I have only had the opportunity to fish this line once, but I hope to spend more time with it as the spring begins to warm.  My initial impression was surprise, for the line was much lighter than I had anticipated. When I refer to weight, I am referring to weight in hand, at the rod tip. I did not weigh the lines themselves.  I think this line will be a pleasure to fish.

So there you have it.  Not much of a review as much as personal musings about a couple of furled lines that I've tried.  With light-line tenkara, there is so much control over the fly that these lines rarely make it into the mix.  But like I said, there is a time and place for everything, and I think its good to experiment, fail, and be a dynamic angler.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Signs of Life

I know we Southerners cannot complain too much about winter.  But cold is cold like anywhere else. We start to miss the color of the forests, the warmth on our faces.  This winter has been pretty mild, and the fishing has been decent enough.  But I for one am ready for warmer nights, bugs dancing on the water, and rising trout.  Most of my outings of late have been lackluster, with not too much to write about.  Fish are earned in the winter, but we've had little glimmers of spring.  On my last few trips to my local tailwater, good hatches of caddis have been coming off; one angler that lives on the river told me that at one point the hatch was so prolific as to have blanketed the water.  I missed out on that, but I caught enough of it to fool a fish or two on a #16 Deer hair caddis.  Watching the trout gingerly roll and sip the fly in the evening light was enough to recharge my batteries for the little winter we have left.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Redemption, Sunshine, and Rhodo Tunnels

Saturday was cold, the previous night being cold enough that I decided against going up into the high country to seek out brookies.  Instead, after a long morning of banana pancakes and coffee, I grabbed my 9 foot Iwana, a 9 foot horsehair line, and my small pack and headed over to my home stream.  I didn't have any expectations other than voiding the smell of skunk that I had obtained over the past few outings.

The water was up a little from the dismal flows of the past year.  With the sun warming my face, I noticed a few little black stoneflies coming off.  I tied on a small, black, beadheaded soft-hackle and it wasn't long before a fish was brought to hand and redemption was mine. I began the slow process of working my way upstream.  This day, I wasn't worried with covering water, as I usually do, but rather breaking down various runs into their technical components to work on my presentation and manipulation skills.

After 12 or so fish brought to hand, I felt that the practice had paid off.

Just for a moment, climbing up that rhodo-choked streambed, all was right with the world.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Dry-spell, Gut Feelings, and Lagging Winter Days

Sometimes the insects are flying about, the fish are rising, and the sun is beaming warmly on the face. Unfortunately this past week or so has not fit into that category of "times.'  Most of the days are gloomy, and after a nice long warm streak, the temperatures begin to shift again towards the cold. The fish seem confused also.  Some bugs are coming off, but the fish continue to take with the half-heartedness of winter.  Still, just tramping the stream-sides with a thermos of hot coffee in the pack is better than sitting at home tying flies or doing chores.

My last outing was really strange. I have spent a lot of time in the woods, alone, and fished some really remote areas, at least as remote as one can get in the southeastern United States.  It took a long time, but over the years I have found comfort in being alone in the forest.  I was scouting some new water, and as I started up the trail, not even a quarter-mile in, I froze.  No, nothing crossed my path. No wildlife or odd person revealed themselves. Nothing happened at all.  Nothing except for the strange, burning sensation in my chest that I should not continue up this trail.  While there have been times in the past that I have had some odd discomfort at the beginning of an outing that was soon relieved by the forest, I have never experienced anything remotely like the sensation that I was having.  I immediately turned around and headed back to the car.  As I neared the car, I sat down on a log at the confluence of two tributaries to collect my thoughts.  My frayed nerves finally settling, I decided to give the other branch a try.  Pool after beautiful, riffle-run pool failed to produce even the slightest bump.  After several hours, and several desperate fly changes (not doing so well with the one-fly thing), I decided to call it quits.  Some piping hot coffee on the bank did wonders, as did my renewed sense of peace and security in the woods.  I didn't find out if my feelings were justified from earlier.  Maybe I missed out on one of the best days of fishing in my life.  Maybe that would have been my last trip in this life.  I'll never know, but setting my ego and pride aside made me feel more in tune with the forest than ever.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Wood Engraving and the Briefest of Outings

When I attended art school, I went through a period of intense study of the craft of wood engraving. In a nutshell, wood engravings are made on end-grain hardwood (usually dense woods like boxwood and lemonwood) with fine engraving tools.  The process is slow and very laborious as each line is cut in 1/8" increments.  More information can be found about this fascinating process at the Wood Engraver's Network site.

This winter seemed like a good time to get reacquainted with a skill that's lied dormant in some corner of my brain for nearly a decade.  With all the pretense of my mid-twenties gone, I was able to find instant subject matter for my first engraving.

The tamo, or Japanese landing net that has become well known within Tenkara iconography.  The block is a 2"x2" piece of lemonwood.  The muscle-memory was somehow still there, and I was pretty happy with this being a first (re)attempt.  Now I just have to ink it up and print a few.  I bought a whole package of blocks from Chris Daunt in England a few years back with the intention of engraving again.  I plan to make use of the rest of the package.

I also decided to make a tamo, thus the inspiration for the engraving. Currently it is still a raw, untrimmed piece of pine drying on the wall, but I see the potential.

Tuesday was my 39th birthday, and while a little gloomy and rainy, I was able to sneak over to my home water in between chores and errands to catch a wild trout.  Catching a wild trout on one's birthday has to be some kind of form of luck, right?

He went for this fly, which I got from Small Stream Reflections.  A beautiful, simple fly.  Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Horsehair Lines

Except for the beginning of my tenkara journey, I have pretty much been a level line guy.  As every tenkara angler knows, they are lightweight, easy to keep off the water (for tenkara specific techniques), and a pleasure to cast. With light or unweighted flies, level lines allow for a fly-first presentation, and as an added bonus they don't spray water on the forecast.

Around 2010 I procured this hank of horse hair from the Eclectic Angler.  It should be noted that he no longer stocks horsehair, but it can still be purchased, along with very clear instructions, from Chris Stewart at TenkaraBum.  At the 2016 Tenkara Jam I talked to Chris, got some instructions, thinking at the very least it would make for a fun winter-night project.

After I finished the first line, I figured I would fish it for a lark, hang it up, and have a good memory stored in my brain.  The line was 9', so I took my Tenkara USA 9'3" modded Iwana.  The shorter version is fairly stiff, and I didn't know how heavy the horse line would feel while casting and drifting.

To my amazement, the line casted like a dream.  The kind of dreamy sensation that a nice glass or bamboo fly rod gives when casting, without all the false casting. At 9', the line was still light enough to keep off the water, but with just enough weight to gently load the rod.  And for whatever reason (because it's twisted, not furled, maybe?), it didn't spray water.

For the small streams that I prefer, where a trophy is 7", there is little worry of breaking the line on a fish.  The pleasure coefficient is enough that I have been fishing it as my primary line for the past couple of months.  Plus there is great joy in using equipment made from natural materials and constructed by oneself.

Last weekend I took out a twelve foot version on a bigger stream in the Great Smokies National Park, and sure enough, the line broke on the first fish I caught.  When horsehair breaks, in this case on the bottom 3 strand section, usually one hair breaks and unravels like a cable.  I still landed the fish, but the line had to be repaired before it would be fishable again.  Fortunately this is an easy process, and could even be performed on-stream if one had extra sections (or snoods) pre-twisted.

I have furthered my experimentations with the above line, a 13' furled level line that was purchased on closeout for $10.  While it is a nice line, unfortunately, there is no comparison.  I am wondering if it is possible to replicate the dainty casting of the horsehair with a twisted fluorocarbon line, where the taper could be controlled, lightweight, yet with more strength.