Friday, June 25, 2010

Tenkara Flies Analyzed

Yesterday I posted about my experiences with soft-hackled sakasa kebari, and what should I see this morning on TenkaraUSA's blog but a post on Fujioka-san's study of traditional tenkara flies!

Take a look, there's not a whole lot of information, but it will give you a general idea of the different sorts of flies commonly used in Japan:

I'm particularly intrigued by the stiff hackled flies. Soft-hackles are just so logical to me for wet flies! As I find with a lot of new knowledge, this little study makes for more questions than answers. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thoughts on Flies

Lately, a lot of discussion has been stirred up revolving around simplicity and minimalism in tenkara. Much of the talk concerns the "one fly" approach that is so characteristic of traditional tenkara practised in Japan. The extent of this practice wasn't fully understood in the US until recently, when Daniel Galhardo (TenkaraUSA founder) had the opportunity to spend two weeks fishing in Japan with a few of the most respected tenkara anglers alive today. Daniel's reports on his experiences are proving to be an invaluable resource for American tenkara anglers who want to know more about what he calls "pure tenkara" - tenkara as it is traditionally practiced in Japan. So in order to explore the "one fly" approach I've only been fishing variations on one fly, the sakasa kebari:

My bread-and-butter sakasa kebari: black thread and pheasant hackle on a curved shank hook

The sakasa kebari from what I gather, is one of the most common types of flies used in Japan. I'd hesitate to call it a "pattern," since there are so many variations, it's more a broad style of wet fly tied with a distinctive forward sloping "reversed" hackle. In it's simplest incarnation all you need for a sakasa kebari is a hook, thread, and soft-hackle, making it a very quick and enjoyable fly to tie (great for beginners). It's also a blast to fish!

My addiction to sakasa kebari started small, I tied a few when I was learning how to tie since they looked easy, and they were interesting. I didn't fish them much until May of this year, and I haven't missed my dries and nymphs yet.

I've found that using one fly pattern changes the experience of fishing. It forces you to focus on presentation, and with tenkara wet flies that means achieving the right "swimming" action. I also find that not having to think too much about fly choice can be a big relief, especially if you're one to worry about it - and once you start catching fish you'll forget about all that, believe me. After having spent about a month fishing only sakasa kebari flies, I have to say that "one fly" hasn't affected the amount of fish I catch, if anything I've actually caught more fish. I haven't found it limiting in the least.

Hopefully with this post I can illuminate the "one fly" approach by offering my current interpretation of it. To me, "one fly" means fishing one fly pattern, or one style of fly. That doesn't mean I'm limiting myself in terms of sizes, colors, or hackle materials (only to keep the fly tying interesting!), but each fly will be tied by the same method.  With the sakasa kebari the general idea is to build a fly with a forward sweeping hackle that will have a lot of action in the water when pulsed or twitched past a likely spot.

This weekend I fished four different sakasa kebari in two streams for wild brook and brown trout. I started off fishing a new stream on saturday with a size 12 fly tied with red thread and pheasant hackle:

I drew a few strikes from a good sized brookie, but failed to hook up before landing a small trout in the next pool. After fishing a little while I came to this deep pool below a dam:

Here I decided to switch flies and try something else I'd tied in the past week just for kicks:

Again, this fly uses pheasant hackle, this time with black thread and copper wire for the body. I wanted something with a little flash for stained or cloudy water, just to make the fly a little bit more visible. It did the trick here, I proceeded to hook and land maybe 8-10 little brookies from that pool! But really, who's to say the first fly wouldn't have worked either?

I had a little time on Monday afternoon to fish, so I headed to another of my favourite streams. Here I decided to use my starling hackled sakasa kebari:

I caught three brookies in a few different pools using this fly before I found a good sized brown that just wouldn't get hooked after several lackadasical strikes. Maybe something a little meatier would help:

Fresh from fishing: "takayama sakasa kebari," size 12, black thread, pheasant hackle, peaccock herl and thread body

The second cast drew a violent strike, and I landed this guy after a hard fight on the Iwana:

To close out this post, here are a few more simple sakasa kebari variations:

When it comes to these flies, one has a lot of freedom as a fly tier. Try out different body materials, threads, dubbings, peacock herl, etc. Experiment with different hackles, personally I like soft hackles for their liveliness in the water. Pheasant, starling, partridge, snipe, and so forth should all work well. Just don't forget that it doesn't take anything fancy to catch fish with these flies.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Fishing Kit

Lately I suppose I've jumped on the minimalist bandwagon in American tenkara. However, there are some very good reasons to go this route. For one thing there is a lot less to carry when you only bring a rod, line, lanyard and fly box out on the stream. And for backpacking, you really do need to minimize what you carry. For day trips, or quick morning/afternoon/evening trips, you'll just have less stuff to deal with, which should hopefully allow you to spend more time fishing, and less time messing with gear. I've found that fishing this way is pretty neat; I've caught just as many fish, and discovered for myself that one really doesn't need more than a few flies, some tippet, nippers, a line, and a rod to catch wild trout on fast flowing streams. Although I do miss having a convenient place to put my camera!!


For backpacking I needed a simple solution to carry my essentials: tippet, nippers and knot tying tool. I didn't want to spend much money, since I wasn't sure I'd like fishing this way all that much. I also wanted something lightweight. Paracord seemed like a good choice for a simple lanyard, it's smooth, not too thick (but not too thin either), durable, and readily available. Besides being a good material for a fishing lanyard, paracord is one of those things that is indespensible for its versatility and utility. You really shouldn't head into the backcountry without paracord or an equivalent cordage, since you're at least going to need it to hang your food at night so the bears will have a harder time getting into it.

I strung on a spool of 6x, and 8x tippet (for my horsehair line), along with my Dr. Slick nippers. I fell in love with these pretty quick since they combine nippers, a knot tying tool, and a hook file all in a small, lightweight package. I carry the rest of my gear (fly box, line, hemostat) in my pockets.


Fly Box 

I've tried a couple of different fly boxes lately, and I think I've settled on one. I read about this on Troutrageous' blog, and decided to give it a shot. It's a simple box you can make yourself using magnetic tape or sheeting, and an Altoids tin. Simply stick the magnetic sheet in the bottom of the tin and you're done. It's compact, light, and holds enough flies for a day's fishing. Best of all, the magnetic sheet keeps the flies in place, and prevents them from jumping out when you inevitably bobble the box trying to open it with your hands full.

For off-stream storage, I'm using plastic Dewitt-type compartment boxes from Stone River Outfitters in Bedford, NH. I originally bought these to use on stream, but decided I wanted something smaller. These boxes, even the six-compartment one, hold a ton of flies. I've got a long way to go toward filling my big one with tenkara flies!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Gear Review: 5.10 Canyoneer II

Since getting around on a mountain stream can really be an athletic pursuit in itself, I've been looking for a really good wet-wading shoe for some time. For one reason or another most of the options I came across didn't exactly fit the bill, except Japanese sawanobori shoes (sawanobori = "shower climbing:" the sport of ascending/descending mountain streams). Since purchasing goods from Japan can be difficult given the fluctuating exchange rate and import/export duties, not to mention the language barrier, I set off to find an alternative here in the US. I eventually decided to try out the Canyoneer from 5.10. These shoes are designed for canyoneering, which is a little like an American version of sawanobori.

5.10 Canyoneer II

I had my first in depth experience with this footwear during my trip into the Pemigewasset Wilderness in Northern NH. Overall, I think they are a great choice for wet-wading in mountain streams, with some caveats.

First, the bad: they aren't all that comfortable to hike in, although they aren't the worst choice for that use either. A couple of features also make them not so comfortable to wear for long periods without some sort of sock (I'll be purchasing a pair of neoprene socks soon): the insoles were a bit rough on my soles, especially once my feet were are all pruned up and soggy. In addition the high-topped neoprene collar that goes over one's ankle is a bit hard and abrasive, again not too comfortable on bare skin; socks, even thin cotton ones, make a big difference. The buckle closure system is a little funky, and doesn't allow to much room for fine adjustments, but it works and is extremely secure.

Now the good: the traction afforded by the stealth-rubber soles is outstanding, as long as the rocks aren't slimy. Having not used a rubber soled wading shoe or boot before, I was really impressed. I actually found switching back to my trail shoes for hiking a bit dangerous since the traction with the Canyoneers had really spoiled me. The traction you're used to with the typical rubber on trail-running shoes or hiking boots doesn't even compare. I was able to ascend slick rock surfaces like these with confidence:

My general take on the Canyoneers is that they will be a great choice for day trips in good weather, way better than my boot-foot hippers or even my wading boots. They are supportive, offer great traction, and are comfortable enough with socks. For backpacking, they're just a bit too bulky and heavy to carry, and besides, they aren't really designed to be worn on a long hike with a pack either.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pemigewasset Wilderness; June 10-11

Well, I was right about having stories to tell from this trip, but they aren't so much about fishing.

I left my cousin's place in Northern NH on Thursday morning, expecting a few showers throughout the day, and decent weather for the weekend. Since I'd left a little late that morning I wanted to be sure I'd arrive at my planned camp-site with enough time to get my tent set up, eat some food, and fish a bit before it got dark. Well, it turned into quite a slog in the rain. I arrived on schedule at 3:30pm, but I was cold, and pretty well soaked from the hike. Wet wading in the rain when it's 62 degrees is a sound recipe for hypothermia; fishing didn't last long before I decided it was time to get dry.

After a damp night, I awoke Friday morning to blue sky and sunshine:

The nice weather lasted maybe half an hour... I'd planned on climbing Mount Garfield (4,495ft elevation), which I'd estimated at maybe half a day's hike round-trip from my campsite. The blow-downs and wet conditions on the trail made the ascent a bit slow:

The south slope of Owl's Head in mist

One of the many downed trees on the Franconia Brook Trail

I arrived at 12:30 or so to find the summit totally socked in, as I'd expected from the drizzly conditions on the way up:

The view form the summit of Mount Garfield

I took advantage of the cell phone reception on the summit to get a weather report. It was dissapointing to hear that more of the same drizzly stuff was on the way for Saturday and Sunday, this time with the potential for strong thunderstorms, and hail at higher elevations. The weather changes fast around here, on wednesday the forecast had predicted sun and temperatures near 80 for Saturday... With the deteriorating prospects for decent weather over the weekend, I decided to I'd be better off somewhere nice and dry, and began the hike back to my car.

What happened next was one of those embarrassing and inconvenient, but not necessarily dangerous back-country blunders: I descended the wrong side of Garfield in the fog, and lost about 2 hours. The upside was I got a great view the second time up and over the mountain:

Once back on the summit I was able to make a call and get a ride from a more nearby trailhead (thank you Jan!). Without that I probably wouldn't have arrived back at my car till after dark. After a nice, cozy, and dry night I headed back out to do some fishing:

While I didn't manage to catch anything, I did see a few fish, which was encouraging. I also found some great pools on the Pemigewasset River in Franconia Notch:

The Pemigewasset is a beautiful river to fish, I hope to get back up there in nice weather, or even in bad weather (with waders and a better rain jacket!). Hopefully I'll have time for another multi-day trip in July!

To sign off, here are a few more assorted photos from the trip:

Jan's hydroponic tomatoes

Wilderness Trail crossing Franconia Brook

Garfield Pond, 3860ft

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Starling Hackle Sakasa Kebari

I tied this up last week, I'll find out if it catches fish this week when I head up to New Hampshire's Pemigewasset Wilderness. I'll be spending four days tenkara fishing for wild brook trout, you'll probably see a series of posts sometime next week on the whole experience. I'll doubtless have stories to tell, photos to share, and equipment to review.

Anyway, this fly was inspired by Stewart's Black Spider, but only insofar as it incorporates starling hackle. I actually did buy the starling skin to tie the Black Spider, but with my new-found addiction to sakasa kebari style flies, I couldn't help but tie a few with the starling. Here is another look at the result in the vise:

Size 14 hook, starling hackle (two feathers), and black 6/0 uni-thread

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Rainy Day in June: Quest for the Pork Barrel

It's always interesting to talk to a real local; someone who's grown up in their area and knows it well. Somewhere in Central Massachusetts west of Northampton there is a legendary location known as the the "Pork Barrel." Thing is, I'm not sure anyone really knows for sure what it is or where it is, but people do talk about it. And yes, it does have to do with fishing. It might be a pool on a certain river, or maybe a pond. It's out there somewhere, and it's supposed to hold a lot of fish.

We went out looking for it today. It was a casual search, and I'm quite sure we didn't find it.

We got started around 7:45am, parked the car, geared up, and headed down to the stream. I decided to try out my horsehair line from the Tenkarabum. My first impressions: horsehair casts better than anything else I've fished so far, hands down. If it were tougher, I'm not sure that I'd want to fish anything else. I'll have to see how it does with dries, but I'm confident it will perform admirably.

In the first pool I hooked two small brookies of about 5 inches, one after the other. By that point it had started raining, but luckily it was a warm day so we didn't mind getting soaked through. I continued to fish the sakasa kebari, but we all went fishless for a few hours as we moved farther upstream. I finally managed to find a nice sized brookie at the head of a shallow pool. I'm pretty sure this was the only fish of any size caught the whole morning:

I hadn't fished in the rain for quite some time - I'd forgotten how much I love being in the forest during a hard rain.

The hike out

Looking down hill toward the River, somewhere in the woods