Wednesday, July 12, 2017

One Bomber of a Day

Dry flies are one of the things that keep a few reels lying about the house.  I couldn't imagine ever giving up that joy.  I have rises from fish etched in my brain from as long as 20+ years ago.  I can recall some of them as vividly as if it were yesterday.  A rise is a rise you would think, but each one is so different. Different lighting, varying outside circumstances, a change in mood or mental state; so many factors contribute to make a few of those rises indelible.
Last weekend, I managed to find a window between relentless rain and thunderstorms.  I hadn't fished dry flies in a while, and knew immediately the way I wanted to spend that precious window.  It didn't take me long to find my faithful small stream companion lying at the very back of a wooden crate that contains all of my tenkara rods and a few short fly rods.  A 6'2" fiberglass 2/3# from Cabelas; a delight to cast up in the headwaters.  I headed to a stream that was a sure bet for some native brook trout, and I figured that the water levels would be good but not blown out.  I had tied a few flies for just such a trip, and I knew exactly what I wanted to tie on:

The Ausable Bomber.  If they worked so well on the Appalachian Char's northern cousins, surely the pattern would do just as well here.  It didn't take me long to find out the answer.

The stream had become so choked with rhododendron growth, that it was impassable in places.  I would fish up to a section, and then have to backtrack downstream.

A stream emerges from the tunnels

Crawling for Brookies

I caught my fill, and then retreated to a nearby clearing for lunch.  I was fortunate enough to apply a good coating of sardine juice on my shirt, which seemed a little sketchy since I was in an area known for decent bear activity.  Satisfied with my Bomber experiment, I moved over to another stream to try another nondescript pattern I had previously tied.

A simple parachute, with little more than moose for the tail, rainbow-warrior dubbing for the body, and a few turns of grizzly hackle over an yellow antron post.  Again it did not disappoint; these little guys are hungry after all.  More of a mental doodling on behalf of the angler.  All in all, not a bad outing.  A few native fish, and time spent in these ancient mountains that I love so.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hand Tying Update

Because of some other pressing projects, I haven't had time to carry out the experiments laid out in the previous post.  However, I did sit down and work on my hand-tying without a vise.  I have seen photographs of really nice kebari tied in-hand by master Japanese tenkara practitioners.  I knew with a little practice, I could do better than the ratty little fly I photographed.  So I tied, cut, retied over and over again until the muscles began to relax to their task, and the process became a little easier.  I also discovered that half-hitches are a hand-tier's best friend.  Anyways, its fun to mess around, and I look forward to doing this in the field.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Shoku-ryoshi Inspiration

If you don't subscribe to the free Discover Tenkara email tutorials, I highly recommend it.  One email was a head's-up for an hour long documentary of the commercial mountain fisherman of Japan, the shoku-ryoshi, forerunners of the sport we now know as tenkara. The film features Dr. Ishigaki, and is a production of Shimano as part of their "Fishing Cafe" series.  The film is interesting and enjoyable, enough so that by the end I was longing for more information.  If only there were a book!

In the presentation, Dr. Ishigaki tours the Omachi Alpine Museum.  While looking over an exhibit of the clothing and gear used by the professional fisherman, the curator points out a couple of flies and a small box.  The fly is ratty by any standard, with a "tail" formed by the tip of the hackle tied in at the rear of the hook shank.  The hackle is palmered forward in open wraps.  The body is nothing more than hackle and thread wraps.  The fly looks to be tied rather hurriedly and without great concern for detail.  The small box contains the materials to tie these flies stream side along with materials for line-making/repair and a few other bits and bob's.  The flies would have been tied in hand, rather than in a vise.

The unattractive little fly became an image stuck in my mind.  Finally I decided to tie something similar, though in a vise. I tossed the scraggly little creation in my fly-box and vowed to use it on my next outing.  Though it shouldn't come as a surprise by now, the fish responded well, until all the material came off the hook.  I would have been too embarrassed to show anyone that fly, for fear that they would think I had no skills at the vise, but I was enormously pleased.

Reflecting on this experience, I decided to take this little rumination a step further.  

First I secured the necessary materials, an old mint tin and some magnet material with adhesive backing.

One strip was cut to fit the length of the tin: this will secure a few hooks.  For this little experiment I used a Dai-Riki #135 scud hook in size 12 and 14.

As you can see,  I added a few pieces of various colored hackle and some silk thread.  With these small spools of Pearsall's silk, the lid will still close properly.  All I need are a small pair of scissors and my kit will be complete.

I went ahead and tried to tie one by hand with no vise.  The result will look horrific to veteran fly-tiers (including myself), but the result is not too far off from that in the video.

So what's the point you may ask?  Not much except for being a fun little mental exercise and historical reflection. I do think it will be satisfying to take a rod, line, and this little box and nothing else.  There, on the bank of a mountain stream, I will tie a fly in hand and take a fish on it.  I think little reflections like this are becoming increasingly common with those that enjoy crafting a skill set as a hobby.  These exercises don't prove or validate anything; rather I think they gift the practitioner with a deeper connection to the thing they love doing.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tenkara and Hook Weight

Tying is something I have always enjoyed, since the beginning of my fly-fishing journey.  Even now, as I pare down my fly patterns to a handful of workhorses, I still enjoy tying, tinkering and experimenting.  I don't think that will change anytime soon. As such, I am always on the hunt for the perfect hook.  I think I am not alone in this quest.  I find it comical that one can get obsessed over a bent piece of wire!

Hook shape tends to be the first consideration, and understandably so.  While that is still a factor when I am choosing hooks, I have begun toying around with an added component: hook wire weight. This is nothing new or revolutionary, but I've noticed that discussions around "one-fly" or the like tend to revolve around size, shape, and color.  In his book, Small Streams, author Dave Hughes advocates a "simplified" box of dry flies and nymphs, with each pattern tied in three sizes with #14 and #16 being the sweet spot.  In my experience as well, one rarely has to go as large as a #12, or as small as a #18.  Again, I am speaking about low pressured, Appalachian freestones, so your experience may be different.  These fish rarely get selective, but they can become slightly fussy, and when that happens, one can usually err on the smaller side. I have landed on a relative size that I tie my tenkara flies and just go with that.

If one is going to fish a very limited number of patterns, it makes sense to me that maximum versatility is gained in each one. We focus on surface currents, looking for seams, tongues, eddies, and back-currents, which is of maximum importance; sometimes I think it is easy to lose sight of the third dimension of the water column level at which the fish are feeding.  I like to figure this out quickly, so that I can make any necessary adjustments. On two or three-second drifts, to work from the lower column up, I like to use a heavy gauge wire hook.  Thanks to the growth of interest in competitive fly fishing, we have access to some very interesting hooks. Heavy wire gauge, wide gape for better hooking, barbless, and dangerously sharp; these are the qualities I tend to look for. I am not suggesting that you ditch all your favorite flies and only use heavy wire.  But I think having variations of you confidence patterns increases your versatility with minimal patterns; that versatility could be the difference between an average day on the water and an extraordinary one. Though I will always be on the lookout, here are a few hooks that are working very well for me.

From left to right: Owner Tenkara Main Stream No. 4, Umpqua/Hanak C260BL, and the Fulling Mill Heavyweight Champ No. 12.

The Owner Tenkara hook is a light to medium wire hook available from TenkaraBum. Chris equates the "No. 4" with being around a number 14 or so.  This was my first "standard," and one I make most comparisons to as I move forward.  The shape is beautiful, with a short-ish shank, wide gape and tiny barb.  This hook makes for some beautiful, traditional Japanese tenkara flies.

The Umpqua/Hanak 260BL was a hook I found by accident, and it has since become something of a "desert-island" hook, in that, if my life depended on catching a fish, most of my confidence flies are tied on this hook.  It has a similar shape to the Owner hook, but the shank is a little shorter, and the wire noticeably heavier.  I like this hook for jun kebari. A number 12 in this hook produces a fly body that looks more like a 14 or 16. Unfortunately these hooks can be hard to track down at your local fly shop.  Competitive Angler and the Tactical Fly-Fisher are good sources for Hanak hooks (and you might even find your own, new go-to hook.)

The final hook is the Fulling Mill Heavy Weight Champ which I picked up from Anthony at Three Rivers Tenkara.  He sells them in sizes 10 and 12.  This hook is similar to the other two, but with a further departure in the longer hook shank.  I have been using this hook for sakasa and "regular orientation" soft hackles.  The extra length looks more proportional with longer hackles, but more importantly, takes a traditional pattern and makes it a little more versatile while searching for fish.

I would like to share an anecdote that I hope illustrates my experiences using heavier wire hooks.  In the past month I twice fished a stream in the Smokies.  Though it was accidental, I fished the exact same stretch, with the exact same setup using the exact same fly both times.  The fly was a takayama-style kebari tied on the Fulling Mill hook.  On the first trip, I only became successful after I let the fly reach the lower depths.  Of course, with the heavier hook this was quickly and easily accomplished. The second trip began with the same technique, but it was not producing fish.  Instead of letting the fly plummet, I would let it attain middle-depth, and then quickly work the fly toward the upper levels. My catch rate skyrocketed for the remainder of the afternoon.  On the way home, I thought about how interesting it would have been if the conditions from those two trips had been experienced over the course of a long morning and afternoon, something that is definitely feasible.  I could have covered all my bases easily with that one pattern.  Of course this is true for most patterns, but I think having that small amount of extra weight in the hook offers just tiny bit of versatility.  And as we strip away all the clutter, asking to do more with less, that little edge might make a difference.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ditch Tarpon in Coastal Georgia

I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from my last post and soft announcement of my guiding service. I even found myself mentioned on the Troutrageous! blog, and for that I am especially grateful.  My wife and I found a little window of opportunity two weeks ago to get out of town, and without hesitation we packed the car and pointed south to Tybee Island, Georgia.  We are fortunate in that my wife's family has a place on the Backriver, and we have been going there for many years.  For some reason or another, however, I have always felt too out of my element to carry a fly-rod.  This time, I figured I would grab the 8 weight, my biggest rod, and try as I might.  If nothing else I could practice my double hauls!

After settling in, I headed over to the fly shop over in Savannah and talked to a few fellows about what to expect.  I grabbed a small box of flies, an extra leader, and armed with a little bit of information headed back to the island.  For the first couple of days, I struck out, fishing right off the beach and into the mouth of the backriver.  My plan was to wait until the next flood tide, and head over to Little Tybee to explore some of the creeks.  In the meantime, I headed to a little place on the island that for a long time I wondered, "what if?..."  It is a little ditch, always tannic, and mangrove-y looking.  I had seen fish splashing on previous visits, and knew that there must be some aquatic life in there.  I tied on a small clouser minnow, and chucked a few casts into the lower portion of the ditch. On my third cast, the fly was crushed and before I knew it, a small band of silver took flight into the air.  I couldn't believe my eyes!  I knew that I would have to see the fish up close to really believe what I was seeing.  Soon enough the fight was over, and the fish at hand.  When I beheld that eye, that eye that has driven so many dreams in so many anglers, I knew I had landed my first tarpon.  I reached for the camera; wait, where was my phone?!  Oh no, in my excitement, I had left it on the nightstand.  I rushed back to the house to tell my wife and grab my phone. She was in the middle of a painting, and so I headed back to get one on film.  I missed at least 7 fish before I finally went back in frustration.  Why couldn't I get a hook set?  Was that the only fish I would catch?  I had to get one on film!  That night, I did as much research as I could on baby tarpon.  The next few days played out much the same.  Hit after jolting hit, but still no positive hook-set.  Then, I found the answer.  The strip-set.  As a mountain trout angler, this was a skill I had never really had to master, and a light flick of the tip to set the hook was doing me no favors at the ditch.  After stinging so many fish, I think they were finally getting wise to what was going on.  Now, I was desperate.  But I knew that if I went out there half-cocked, I would blow casts, splash water, rant and cuss up and down the bank, and therefore catch nothing.  I took a deep breath and watched the surface.  It was early morning, steamy, but not miserably hot.  A few tarpon made splashy surface rises, which I found out was a means to gulping much needed air in the low-oxygen environment of the tannic backwater.  Then I spotted a gentle roll.  A well placed cast was made, and I began to strip.  Strip, strip, strip....Bam!  I made a solid hook-set, and the fish took to the air.  I relished every moment of the dance, but it was over all to soon.  This time, I had my camera with me.

I felt satisfied, and figured I would let the little guys rest.  Their position seemed hardscrabble at best, so I figured they needed all the help they could get.  But at least I know where they are, and hopefully they will still be there next time we head to the coast.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A New Venture

In the early nineties, rummaging around my grandfather's garage, I noticed an old fly rod hanging among his other fishing equipment.  I had been fortunate that my dad was a passionate bass angler, and had me fishing from a very early age.  Fly casting seemed like a reasonable challenge, so I picked up the old Heddon and taught myself to fly fish.  Nearly 25 years later, the passion still burns as intense as ever.  I certainly couldn't have predicted that.  As I approached the end of high school, I desperately wanted to become a full-time guide.  For various reasons, I put off that dream, until nearly half forgotten.  

I've reached a point in life where I realize that time is finite, and one has to try to live this life to its fullest.  I have also reached a point in my fishing that I am confident enough in my acquired skills to share them with others.

With that said, I am ready to say that with 25 years in the making, I am ready to hang my small shingle.  

I am beginning this venture solo, as I want to focus as much as possible on including tenkara options in my guiding services.  Many fly shops are still leary of the "T" word, but things are changing.  I will start very small, first offering trips on the public tailwater here in Blue Ridge.  I am working on the permitting process for backcountry access.  I have also acquired a small drift boat, but that also falls into future planning.  

I want to make it clear that I am not trying to "cash in" on the tenkara community, or the growth of fly fishing in general.  I don't think anyone goes into guiding thinking they are going to line their pockets.  Its a labor of love, and when one is passionate to the point of bursting, even after nearly a quarter of a century, it hard not to want to share that with others.  I hope that the shape of this business becomes as much about education and spreading the "stoke" as solid catches.  I want, in my small way, to be a part of the journey that creates a lifelong angler, rather than just a forgettable weekend of fishing.

So, let's begin...

Back of Beyond, LLC., catering to tenkara and fly fisherman alike, with plenty of experience in both (8 years & 24 years respectively).  Fully insured, and located in beautiful Blue Ridge, Georgia.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Beautiful Day in the Smokies

Sunday, I had a free pass and nothing but time on my hands, so after my second cup of coffee, I packed up the car and headed out for a much needed day afield.  I hadn't been to the Smokies in a while and figured it was long overdue.  I chose a stream on the south side of the Park that's an easy drive from Blue Ridge, and though crowded in the lower portions, would allow some privacy within just a short walk.  Upon arrival, I quickly suited up and grabbed three rods stuffing them, some water and macadamia nuts into my trusty Vedavoo pack.  Locking the car door, I said goodbye to a jam-packed parking lot.  There is a really nice riffle right out of the parking lot that has varying depth on on side of the current tongue, and a harsh seam/circulatory pool on the other.  To my surprise, I rarely see people fishing this run.  I assume that they assume the water is no good due to the proximity of people, but I have caught some nice fish there.  I also use it as a way to calibrate the day, and warm up the senses in preparation.  After picking off four fish, and missing a dandy of a hit in the pool, I collapsed the big Oni (the Nissin Oni Honryu 450, just right for the largish stream) and took a walk.  The rest of the day was sensational.  Even though it was midday with bright sun and blue bird skies, I still managed thirteen fish by the end of the session.  Rather than repeating the same thing over and over again, my fishing becomes ever more dynamic, changing techniques constantly, rather than flies. By the end of the day, my kebari was totally ragged.  I knew my time was coming to an end, and began to suffer from the "one-more" syndrome, seeking the right fish that somehow quells the imaginative longing for the perfect ending.  There was a long, deep current tongue on the far bank.  At it's head, it dropped off of a shoal into a pool with broken water on the surface.  A tree and large boulder formed the shore, and a deep dark pool with a hard seam edged up against the bank.  I hooked a good fish in the broken-water pool, but he threw the hook in his mad-dash.  I doggedly continued working both sides of the flow, employing as many presentations as I could conjure up.  Finally, I made a pile cast into the top of the strong current seam, allowing the fly to perform a "mystery move" (old squirt boating jargon), quickly dropping into the lower levels of the water column and pulling the line tight. I repeated this presentation a third time, and midway down the pool the line paused ever so briefly.  I set the hook and felt the weight of a good fish.  By the angry, doleful head-shakes, I could only guess that it was a decent brownie.  Seeing that this tactic wouldn't work to shake the hook, he unwillingly left the pool and took to the current.  The fish put a nice, deep bend in the big Oni, but couldn't overcome the uncompromising backbone of the rod.  And just like that it was all over, fish in the net, photographed and released.  A wave of satisfaction washed over me, knowing there was nothing left to do but walk back to the car, drive into town, and grab a few frosty treats for the road.

A good way to begin the day

Creek Chub?  Fought like a brownie twice its size!

A tattered kebari after long day of fishing
Final fish of the day. Not a giant, but hefty and determined.

Nantahala Brewing, always a good way to finish a day of fishing.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Taking a Much Needed Break; New Diversions

I check a few of my favorite blogs daily, and am grateful for their output and content.  Just the other day, as I was discovering a new wet fly pattern, I drifted over to the "B" Blogger icon to check on my own blog. To my dismay, it had been well over a month since my last post!  Same for Instagram, which I am much better with in terms of output; one month!

Sometimes one has to take a step back from it all.  Fortunately, there is the reliable, steady rise of the trout.  There is the continual honing of my tenkara skills; the realization that one is mainly a wet fly fisherman. The latter makes one do a double-take at that 2 weight glass rod collecting dust. That glass rod gets paired with a small tin of favorite caddies dries, and taken to my small stream, running flush with the recent spring rains.

Did I mention the wet wading?  It's wonderful to see the water levels up, especially after a dismal summer last year.

There's also the tiny rivulets that form headwaters; rhodo-choked hellholes where Georgia brookies, literally at the end of the line, cling tenaciously to life.

Not to mention that the local ponds are warming up, and the bass are finally getting aggressive.  I can watch a bass take a popper all day long.

Not Tenkara! 

And finally, I got a new toy, but more on that later...

So it's been a good break, but it's time to step back into the maw of the beast.  I have a few things in the works, and for better or worse, the internet plays a big role in facilitation.  The interconnection is part of daily life now, and like it or not, it is hard to escape its increasing necessity.  But it does feel great to step away every now and then.  Maybe next time, it won't take so long.

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.