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.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Saturday Ramble

The past couple of days we have been enjoying a January thaw, with temperatures hovering in the mid to upper 60's.  This morning, I packed up a thermos of coffee, grabbed a rod and headed over to a stream I have yet to explore.  I had hoped to venture up to the headwaters of this stream, which I have heard contains native brook trout, but the Forest Service Road was pretty sloppy from the freeze/thaw and I did not want to tempt the fates in my wife's Corolla.  As a result, I began by fishing from the bottom up, working my way upstream as far as time allowed.  I was trying out a few new pieces of kit, mainly a new line and that box of experimental patterns.  The stream-bed was wide and with a tall canopy I was able to fish a longer rod, this time the Tenkara Tanuki 375.  I tied on the historically inspired red wool and hackle fly, lubed up with a floatant, and began to work the first nice pool I came to.  This stream has a reputation for some larger fish lurking about the deep pools, and with a heavy nymph I might have cleaned house.  But with the spring-like temperature I was determined to take a fish on the surface.

 It didn't take long to find a willing participant.  After a few more fish it was time to take to the bank for some much needed coffee and roasted pecans.

The skies grew dark and cloudy, and for the rest of the afternoon things really slowed down.  I was stubborn and did not change my fly.  The furled line (not horsehair) that I was trying out was a little too heavy to keep off the water as effectively as a level line, so I persisted in fishing the little red fly dry.  With a level line and fishing the fly wet, I think I may have taken more fish.  But I was content with the day as it was and continued on.  The sun began working its way toward the western ridge line that framed the stream, and with a walk back to the car and no flashlight, I knew it was time to pack it in.  I got back to the car a little sooner than I expected and fished a pool near the parking space. Fortunately, in the failing light, I was able to rouse one more rise and conclude a beautiful day afield.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ancient and Experimental

I have been fly-fishing now for the past twenty-four years, six of those years with a tenkara rod in my hand.  Since 2009, like many of my fellow American-tenkara anglers, I have treated fixed-line fishing as a grand experiment.  All kinds of ghastly flies have been on the end of my line, and at some point this winter, I began to ask myself why I was using a tenkara rod at all when I could just as easily pick up my dusty 5 weight and lob heavy nymphs and streamers.  I have nothing against the experimentation that is inherent in our culture.  Heck without it we wouldn't have the tasty craft beer that I so enjoy.  But tenkara, as practiced in Japan, has an inherent refinement and elegance in its simplicity and its reliance on stealth and skill.  I liken it to comparing modern archery to hunting with a longbow.  Not better, just different, and something I would like to explore further as a personal interest.

So in that vein I have been experimenting with simple, light flies that perform double-duty as dry and/or wet.  Most of the patterns are simply thread and quality dry fly hackle.  Pouring through one of my favorite blogs, "Small Stream Reflections," I stumbled across a British blog entitled "Dry Fly Expert."  There I found two patterns that really caught my eye, Charles Cotton's Black Fly and the ancient Macedonian Red Hackle.  Essentially the same flies, they share a simple wool body with palmered hackle and in the case of the later fly, a tail.

Cotton's Black Fly

My version of the Red Hackle.  These patterns are akin to the southern "Palmer" flies, the midwestern "Crackleback, and a whole host of other modern bushy dry flies. I know these are just names and a fly tyer's whimsy, but there is something reassuring that a pattern that worked 2,000 years ago continues to produce today.  

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Home Waters

Small stream tenkara is alive and well in the North Georgia mountains.  I am still getting to know the area, and the blue lines on local maps could take up several lifetimes if one wanted to know them all intimately. I have a stream, a "home water" that is close to my house and contains wild trout. Sure, there's a tailrace downtown holding some monster fish, but these jewels give me far more pleasure.

Patterns are simple, as these fish fight tooth and nail to cling to life.

I know there will be more productive streams, perhaps a few containing native brookies, but there is something to be said for one's home waters.