A Fly Line Primer

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I’m honored to contribute to Tail Fly Fishing Magazine’s fifth year anniversary issue. You can purchase a hard copy at your local fly shop, at Barnes and Noble, or you can subscribe to it by clicking the link above.

I’ve found that many experienced fly anglers have a knowledge deficit regarding fly lines. My article for this issue, “A Fly Line Primer,” is an attempt at a concise but useful overview of choosing, using, and tweaking a saltwater fly line for enhanced performance. The publishers have posted the article on the magazine’s blog in three installments. You can begin reading Part One by clicking the corresponding link.

To supplement the article I’ve created this short video (using iMovie and the Hudl Technique app) on marking the head of the fly line. I hope you find it helpful.

 

 

 

Northeast Brookies Tenkara-Style: Where the Streams Have No Names, Leave the 12-Footer at Home

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This post first appeared, in slightly different form, as a feature article in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler Magazine. As spring 2017 has arrived and our thoughts turn to the season ahead, I thought you might like to read it, if you haven’t already.  My thanks to Mike Agneta, webmaster of Troutrageous!, for allowing me to publish it.

Photos by Brad Clark

My first tenkara rod was a 13-footer, which I used on the trout streams of North Georgia—the Chattahoochee and the Tallulah River among them. This purchase was quickly followed by that of an 11-foot rod. The 2-foot subtraction helped me stay out of the rhododendrons, but if a shorter rod had been available then, I would have bought that as well. Unfortunately, there wasn’t.

When I moved back to Massachusetts a couple of years later, I knew these rods would be unworkable on many of the small streams in northern New England that are home to wild native brook trout. These waters, heavily canopied, often unnamed, faint blue lines on the Gazetteer, do not allow for 9-foot rods, let alone 13-footers.

When my friend Chris Stewart, the Tenkara Bum, began touting the Daiwa Soyokaze as a micro rod that could be fished tenkara-style, some tenkara traditionalists (who’d been at the game for all of three years) balked. For those of us who fish for brookies in New England, however, the short sticks seemed tailor-made for the game. For me, whose initial attraction to tenkara was its minimalism, the Soyokaze further simplified things. Here was a fly rod stripped to its essence: a carbon stick and little else. The Soyokaze cast both furled and level lines well—and it caught fish. When Daiwa ceased production, I regretted not having bought a few more of them.

If you’re interested in playing the small-stream tenkara game, the rod is your primary consideration. There are several seiryu and micro rods on the market of less than 9 feet that will fit the bill, including the Nissin Air Stage 190 (which comes in several flex profiles) and the Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 24, 21, and 18 (just under 8 feet, 7 feet, and 6 feet, respectively). Although the Kiyotaki 18 has become my go-to rod for small-stream brookies (simply due to its length), it’s a bit stiffer than I would like.

Fast-forward 7 or 8 years after tenkara first hit the U.S. and we now have several homegrown companies producing rods for the American market, 3 of which offer a dedicated tenkara rod of less than 9 feet.

At 8’6” extended and 18 inches collapsed, Badger Tenkara’s U.N.C. (which stands for “unnamed creek”) is spartan, a matte drab olive blank (presumably for stealth). Writes Matt Sment: “We founded Badger with the goal of making tenkara accessible to the broadest possible audience … focusing on the angler’s preferred experience rather than trying to clone Japanese products and culture. The vast majority of our customers are Americans fishing American water and terrain, and our products are shaped by our experiences on the same.”

The company describes the rod as a 6:4 action with a medium flex. Frankly, I don’t pay too much attention to technical specifications. I fished the rod and it cast well and hooked fish. And at $90 retail you really can’t argue with the price. (I didn’t get a chance to take the U.N.C. down to the pond, but I’m sure it’s an awesome little bluegill rod.)

Zen Fly Fishing Gear’s Suzume (“sparrow”) is one of the neatest tenkara rods I’ve fished with yet—a downsized triple-zoom (10’8”, 9’3”, and 7’7”) that Zen owner Karin Miller designed specifically for Rocky Mountain National Park. “Those are our home waters,” she writes, “and what we fish every day. It’s small streams, tight places, lots of trees and overhanging canopy, and pools and pockets. We wanted something that could handle these places without a lot of acrobatics and maneuvering and could also reach the other side of that wider pool or beaver dam when you finally get to that place where you can see sky and the water opens up for a bit. The range that the Suzume has is something we’re pretty proud of. You can cover a lot of situations with a single rod—and still feel pretty balanced and not tip heavy in any of its three positions (which is very hard to do on a zoom rod and especially a tri-zoom). It’s a sweet rod that offers some really nice options.”

Zen describes the rod as a medium-fast action with a 6:4 flex. I was afraid the rod would feel a bit stiff at its shortest length—but it didn’t. At $229, the Suzume is more than twice the price of the U.N.C., but if you think of it as buying three rods the price gets a lot nicer. As an added bonus, Zen includes an extra tip with each of its rods. Says Miller, “It just makes life that much sweeter if you should experience a break.”

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A roster of short sticks. From the top, Zen Fly Fishing Gear’s Suzume; Badger Tenkara’s U.N.C.; Shimotsuki Kiyotaki 24; Shimotsuke Kosasa, 6’10”; Nissan Air Stage 190; Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 18.

Once you’ve procured your rod, your next consideration is line. Although most tenkara anglers today prefer to fish with level fluorocarbon lines, I still prefer furled lines, which feel and handle more like conventional fly lines. In the tightest spots, however, you’re bound to end up in the trees occasionally. Pulling on the line to break the tippet is almost sure to cause the line to tangle. Tangle a furled line and you could spend the next five minutes trying to untangle it. Furled lines for very short tenkara rods are not the norm. You may have to substitute a furled leader made for a Western-style fly line. Otherwise, Mike Moline at Streamside Furled Leaders is willing to do custom work at a small additional charge. Whatever line you choose, 3 or so feet of 5X or 6X tippet will suffice.

Life in the headwaters is a hardscrabble existence. Competition for food is keen, so the fish aren’t fussy. Forget about matching the hatch—just throw a few flies into a glass vial and go. I do most of my small-stream fishing with only two patterns—an Elk Hair Caddis and a Yellow Soft Hackle, size 14 or smaller. Plan to do a lot of walking when you play this game. If you don’t get a rise after a cast or two into the same water, move to the next likely-looking spot. If you rise a fish but don’t hook it, don’t spend a lot of time working over him, as it’s unlikely you’ll rise the same fish again.

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This stream actually does have a name–Needle Shop Brook in Hill, New Hampshire. One of my favorite spots for small-stream tenkara. I’ve yet to see another angler here. If you decide to visit, please release all fish and pack out your trash.

As I said previously, the thing that attracted me to tenkara initially was its minimalism. I like to travel light. I can fit everything I need for a day of fishing into a small fanny pack. If I can get away with wet-wading in a pair of shorts and Vibram FiveFingers, I leave the waders at home (I find the Vibrams made for trail running offer better grip on wet stones).

To enjoy this game requires a shift in attitude that some will never manage—which may be why I rarely see another soul. You have to accept there will be no rods doubled over, no singing reels, no trophies as such—none of the usual rewards of the five-star experience. (The first time I showed my wife a wild brook trout she said, “We came all the way up here for that…?”) If you’re after those things you’ll be elsewhere—wading the ranch’s private water, or standing at the bow of a flats boat.

But if you’re here, bare ankles numb, dancing your CDC Caddis across a pool no larger than your bathtub, you’re after something else.

Needle Shop Brookie

Trophies, but no bragging.

Resources

Badger Tenkara

www.badgertenkara.com

Streamside Furled Leaders

www.streamsideleaders.com

TenkaraBum

Chris Stewart stocks an impressive array of tenkara and other Japanese rods. For all of the specialty rods mentioned in this post, please refer to his Website.

www.tenkarabum.com

Zen Fly Fishing Gear

www.zenflyfishinggear.com

JJ’s Wood Fired Pizza and Tavern

If you make the trip to Needle Shop Brook be sure to stop by JJ’s. Nice people, excellent food, and an impressive beer selection. Piscator non solum piscatur.

SunCloud Readers

Suncloud

SunCloud Conductor Readers–$79.99 with free shipping and a lifetime warranty.

I didn’t set this site up to sell or promote gear, but I have no problem talking about equipment I like–particularly if it’s a good value.

If you’re like me, you don’t have an extra $300 lying around to plunk down on a pair of polarized sunglasses (and if you’re really like me, you probably wouldn’t even if you did). Last year I stumbled upon SunCloud sunglasses at my local Olympia Sports. Simply put, these are quality polycarbonate polarized sunglasses at a very reasonable price (about $50 for their basic plastic frames–a bit more for wire). I liked them so much I talked my wife into getting a pair. She loves hers, as evidenced by the fact that they’re the only pair of sunglasses she hasn’t lost or broken within a month.

After I turned 50, my near vision began to deteriorate noticeably with each passing year, to the point where I began carrying reading glasses when I went fishing. Threading 5X tippet through a small hook eye is a particular problem in low light, but has become increasingly difficult in the light of day. I finally decided to break down and buy a pair of polarized readers.

A quick trip to the SunCloud website revealed they had several options for polarized readers, ranging in price from $80 to $90—very reasonable, I thought. Because I don’t like to buy glasses without first trying them on, I visited two local dealers near me: Olympia Sports and REI. These retailers must think the entirety of their clientele is under under age 30, because neither had a pair of readers in stock. (I emailed the company, but they could not tell me which of their retailers stocked readers.) I took a chance and bought the Conductor Readers online with the +2.00 magnifiers. Standard shipping was free.

I have to say, I’m very pleased. They reduce glare while driving, and the magnifiers solve all close-vision issues. I haven’t had them on the water yet, but I’m sure they’ll be great while fishing, particularly for tying on flies.

SunCouds come with a lifetime warranty (unlike many of the more expensive brands), which you can read about on their website. Each pair comes with a red cloth bag that doubles as a lens cloth.

Just to be clear: I paid full retail for my original pair of SunCloud sunglasses as well as these readers–and I’d do so again.

Update: July 3, 2016

When I wrote that I’d pay full retail again, I didn’t expect to have to prove it so quickly. Out in Boston Harbor last week with my friend Pat Cahill in his new Contender, we were moving right along at 40-plus when one of the flies I had been using blew off the console and hit the deck. When I turned to pick up the fly, the wind peeled the glasses off my face and dumped them into our wake. Somewhere in Boston Harbor there’s a striped bass swimming around who bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Limpet.

My second pair of Conductor Readers is en route to my house.