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Reader’s Corner: What Trout Want & Simple Flies

Reader’s Corner:
What Trout Want and Simple Flies
By Anthony Naples

Winter is coming. Well it’s a little while off still. But a guy can dream. I happen to love winter. Autumn is nice too. Who doesn’t love the smell of fallen leaves crunching underfoot and the crisp mornings warming to comfy afternoons? And of course the splendid dress of the brookies trying to impress their ladies. But fall can make me a little frantic as I know that prime fishing weather is slipping away. Every trip feels as though it may be the last of the season. Spring has that hopeful feeling of a fishing season just coming into its own. Summer can be just fantastic salad days of easy fishing, and then when the trout streams get low and slow I can usually switch over to some local warm water smallmouth streams. But autumn, though the fishing can be the best since early summer, has that nagging feeling of something slipping away.

Winter for me has no fishing expectations. I get out from time to time when the weather and schedule permits— but those trips are a gift. I can still look back on the fall fishing with good memories, still mull them over and think on them and enjoy them. But the winter is a time of comfort and relaxation. I don’t like the heat. The dog days of summer are my least favorite time of the year. Winter makes me feel alive again— the bracing air, the crunch of fresh snow underfoot, no yard work to do.

And then there’s the reading. Sitting inside, frosty windowpanes, hot cup of coffee and a good book. Most likely the book is science fiction, non-fiction science, nature or fishing. Winter is a good time for woodshedding, preparing, planning and thinking about the next season. It’s a good time to rethink things, to look back on the fishing season and think about what went right and what went wrong and what you might want to try next time around. And of course a good time to fill those fly boxes.

With all that in mind I have a few recommendations for your upcoming winter reading list – of course you don’t have to wait to winter. You could get started early and maybe even have time to implement some of what you learn and use some of the flies that you tie this fall.

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What Trout Want: The Educated Trout and Other Myths by Bob Wyatt

Reading this book is a little like being Neo in The Matrix. So part of the speech that Morpheus delivers to Neo before making him choose whether he wants to really learn about the Matrix might be in order…

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Remember… all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more…. follow me.”

-Morpheus, The Matrix

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I hope that you choose the red pill…

The first part of this book is dedicated to what Mr. Wyatt calls “A Beautiful Fiction”, wherein he systematically picks apart much of what the previous few hundred years of fly fishing literature has taught us about trout and more specifically the idea of “educated trout” and “finicky trout” and “fly refusal”. And he does a pretty thorough job of it. He points to trout behavior that has led the fly fishing world to attribute much more intelligence, decision making ability and learning capacity to trout than he thinks they ought to be given, and provides alternative and simpler explanations based on experience and science. He then gives us his thoughts on what is really important to the trout and and some basic fly patterns that will cover most situations that the trout fisher will need to imitate the insects (and stages).

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Bob Wyatt’s Deer Hair Sedge

I don’t want to give it all away.

But let’s say it’s something to do with what many tenkara anglers have been suspicious of— presentation….

Mr. Wyatt is not a “one-fly” proponent in the way that some tenkara anglers may be. He’s not afraid to admit that trout get selective at times. And that a different fly may be needed, but the key feature of the fly is likely not what we’ve been taught by mainstream fly fishing. He’s in the school that says fly size is probably the most important factor (assuming adequate presentation too of course) not body color, wing material, tails, ribbing and/or other anatomical details.

I have not always been in this camp. But after taking up tenkara, my views have shifted. Though up till now I still hadn’t gone so far over to all of what Wyatt discusses in this book. I may be converted now – though I need to do some field testing.

If you’re coming to tenkara from a fly fishing background this book may really help you to clear away all of the excesses that you’ve picked up along your journey and give you a nice grounding in why you should reconsider the “common knowledge”. If you’re new to fly fishing, and tenkara is your entry point, this book will give you a solid foundation on which to build.

Some readers may think Mr. Wyatt goes too far – some may think not far enough – and like all fly fishing books I’m sure there are things in it that you just won’t be able to agree with completely based on your own experiences. After all the author is not immune to the biases that affect all of us, such as confirmation bias and availability bias. But I do get the feeling that he’d be happy to discuss things with you and keep an open mind.

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Bob Wyatt’s Deer Hair Emerger

In the end, for me this book provided a slightly different perspective on the trout and it’s brain that I hadn’t really quite grasped previously, and I’m willing to open my mind up to the idea that I’ve been wrong about a few things. Next trout season will be the time for some serious investigation of the ideas in What Trout Want.

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Simple Flies: 52 Easy-to-Tie Patterns that Catch Trout by Morgan Lyle

I’m not going to go on too long about this book. I’ve written about it previously when I presented an interview with Morgan Lyle on my Three Rivers Tenkara blog and in a previous issue of Tenkara Angler. But I think it’s well worth mentioning it here again in the context of having just read Bob Wyatt’s book, because I first heard about What Trout Want in Morgan Lyle’s book and in the interview that I did with him.

What Trout Want lays down a great technical and theoretical background – but it is not a fly tying book. It presents only a few basic patterns – which considering the author’s entire thesis is probably quite appropriate. If you want to take what you’ve learned in Bob Wyatt’s book but also learn to tie some additional patterns for other species and situations, then Simple Flies is the book you want.

Morgan presents some great, easy to tie patterns and step by step instructions to go with them – along with additional background on the ideas behind using simple flies – it is more than just a tying manual.

Armed with these two books you’ll have a very productive off-season of reading and tying in preparation for your most successful trout season yet. Also it doesn’t hurt that Morgan Lyle is a member of our tenkara brotherhood and tenkara gets it’s due in his book.

Good reading!

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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Columbine Meadows

Columbine Meadows
By Sam Larson

The sky presses close overhead, dark grey and rippled with the texture of winter storm clouds. There’s no wind. Just the overwhelming stillness of the first autumn day where winter starts knocking on the door and summer packs her bags to take the long road south for the season. I have my tenkara rod and gear with me, chest pack laid over top my wind shell and net swinging back and forth from my shoulders, but my rod isn’t rigged up yet. The collapsed tenkara rod swings easily in my hand as I stomp down the path in my wading boots.

I’m walking in the creek and remembering trout. I know this river, have walked it almost my whole life, and each bend and sandbar has its memory. At the foot of the bridge I stop think about the big brookie that holds here, with his small kype and dark black streaks around his jaw blending into a rich swirl of spawning colors. He’s the king of a stream where fish multiply, stunt, and rarely top eight inches. I wonder where he is, whether he’s sunk down low in the cold water, preparing for winter, or whether he’s given up his hard-fought climb to the top of this particular food chain, tumbled downstream over rocks and riffles to be picked apart by other, lesser fish.

Depressing thoughts, I tell myself… Autumn thoughts.

Above the bridge is a stretch that I don’t fish. In the spring and summer it’s too overgrown, a tunnel of trees and brush that meet and intertwine overhead. In this part of the creek flies migrate to the trees by way of my backcast, forming a sparse, tattered constellation of feathers, hooks, and tippet in the branches. I leave this part of the river to the fish and the dappled, leafy shade. But autumn strips the leaves and brush from the banks and, for the first time since last winter, I can see the bones of the river; the gravel and sand rippling along the bottom, the splash of clear water, and the stark, rocky banks.

I wade noisily upstream, noting lies and eddies where I’ve landed fish, favorite spots where I can always find a fish that will rise to an emerger or a micro Chernobyl Ant. Next season, after winter, spring, and a heavy runoff have had their way with the river, things will be different. Old, familiar beaver ponds will vanish, swept clear by rising water, and new deadfall will redirect the current, carving channels and cut banks to house the coming summer’s brook trout. In spring I’ll come back to a river that I claim to know and have to learn about it all over again.

Stretches of the creek have accumulated names over the years: The Swimming Hole, the Cow Ford, and the Magic Stretch, where the fishing is always good. The Bridge, the Black Pines, and the Rocks, where I am now. In the middle of the creek two tall boulders are framed by deep currents. In late fall’s low water, I can approach and scramble up their backs, sit astride them and look up and down stream.

An advancing wedge of clouds noses over the ridge to the south and starts to tumble down the valley, bringing vague puffs of wind along with it. The smell of snow is thick in the air and if I want to get any fishing done I need to keep moving upstream. The granite rasps on my waders as I slide down the Rocks and splash heavily back into the stream. A pod of brookies darts out of the pool I landed in and vanishes downstream. I note them but keep walking upstream towards an appointment I’ve made with a few favorite bends, above the twisted bramble and trees of the valley.

As the valley continues to narrow I step out of the water and follow a faint footpath through the crackling brown grass. It traverses a steep hillside and rises quickly above the water. Through the bare treetops, now at eye level, the pebbled bottom of the creek is visible. Clouds continue to edge down the side of the valley opposite.

I feel as though I’m climbing into the sky, heading upstream and upslope, parting swirling tails of fog with my tenkara rod and splitting violent cracks in the cloudy silence with every branch that snaps underfoot. I feel small, one man climbing inside a vast silence. The physical presence of the sky leans in so close that it seems I could cast a fly upwards and play a cloud into my net. Or perhaps, where the creek recedes into the lowering horizon, I’d get hauled upwards through a river of fog by a bucking trout-shaped swirl of mist, angrily shaking streamers of vapor from its silver-gray tail.

My boot slips on a clump of grass and I have to put out a hand to steady myself. That’s the wakeup call I needed to stop staring at the clouds and start paying attention to the thin trail ahead of me.

Columbine Meadows is a flat, square-acre field projecting off the side of a steep hill. Beneath the pines in the center of the meadow blue columbines remain hidden long after they’ve faded away elsewhere. Above the meadow the river slows into broad curves across the bottom of the valley. Sweeping cut banks and glassy flats replace the pockets and small eddies that define the lower stretches. This is the kind of water that offers curious trout all the time they need to hover below a fly and pass judgment before they commit to taking a bite.

My level line tumbles off the foam spool in loops and whorls, nothing a few false casts won’t shake out. The water is clear and low, and the peacock and partridge soft hackle that I’d already decided to tie on seems like a good place to start. A puff of wind sends the line out behind me like a pennant and there is snow falling around me. The ticking and rustling of the snow on my jacket and hat brim is loud in the overcast silence. The dry grass whispers in the new breeze and my boots crunch in the gravel of the river bed as I walk towards the first seam, thinking about rivers, trout, the coming winter, and the spring that will follow.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Where The Water Forks

Where The Water Forks
By Nathaniel Skaggs

Parking on the side of the road, the sounds of a clear mountain stream echo throughout the quiet stretch along Rocky Fork Road. Small cascades create deep pools that scream large, hungry mountain trout.

It is the first cool morning of September, and autumn teases the end of another hot, dry summer. You know dry flies are becoming useless on the larger rivers and streams, unless you use a Light Cahill or Adams between size 12-18. However, these enthusiastic mountain fish can be tempted by anything that looks real enough to provide energy for the upcoming colder months.

Though it is a younger state park in northeastern Tennessee, Rocky Fork State Park proves to hold both eager rainbows and a wise older trout that require delicate presentations and realistic flies. Do not trouble yourself with matching the hatch on these waters, these fish can spot the difference.

These pristine waters are wide enough to use a nice 9-foot, 3-weight outfit with enough room for a good false cast that curls around the boulder next to a small cascade; on the other hand, you choose an eight foot tenkara rod in order to get to the smaller pocket directly underneath several branches of rhododendron maximum.

A Louisiana waterthrush stands on a rock watching you, it’s hard, metallic chip, a reminder that your fly is not tempting to just the trout. Working upstream, a rise indicates a larger rainbow feeding right at subsurface.

Passing hikers stop and watch what will sure to be a magical moment for any angler on small mountain streams in southern Appalachia. Picking a size 16 Light Cahill and adding an extra six inches of 7x tippet, you delicately place the fly on top of a small rock a yard or two above the rise. For these fish, you only have one chance before the entire pool is spooked and washed out.

A small flick pops the fly up and down into the creek without even a ripple. Breathing stops. Hikers stand, unmoving while the same waterthrush trains a quiet eye on the fly. The Cahill disappears without anyone noticing. A quick jerk and fight later, you hold an Appalachian prize.

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The size does not matter to you or the cheering hikers, only that you convinced one fish to rise above the water’s edge where the water forks.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Tenkara Got The Girl

Tenkara Got The Girl
Words: Jacques LeBrun
Art: Jim Tignor

It was a cool and breezy summer night before a rain. Most of the guests were heading back to their cabins, but John was heading to the only place with electric lights still on in camp – the dining porch, of course.

He sat down at a table and set up his vise, methodically removing some tying materials from his travel kit – hooks, dubbing and grizzly hen hackle, the only kind he used, because it worked.

A father and his two kids stopped over at the table to see what was going on…. “Are you a scientist,” one of the children asked excitedly? “No,” said John,  “I’m not a scientist, only a fisherman.”

The child pressed him: “you should be a scientist.” John chuckled and began to wrap some red silk around the first hook.  “Science is important, but my head is in the fishing game right now,” he said. The child looked puzzled but laughed anyway.

John began to explain what he was doing to the children, who were watching intently as the dubbing was wound onto the thread with a few simple twists of the fingers.  However, a moment later the children were suddenly bored and wandered away, leaving John alone on the dining porch, where he was listening to the sounds of the owls call and the lonely cry of a loon far away.

After tying a few flies up for the week, John heard someone emerging from the staff room. Looking up, he saw her – and they linked eyes for a moment. Thinking nothing of it, he went back to stripping a hen feather and tying it onto the hook, orienting it just so, in order for it to face the right way as he wrapped.

Without a sound, she walked over to the table and surprised John with a question… “What are you doing, can I watch?”

“Sure,” John said, as he awkwardly attempted to explain fly tying in a concise, interesting manner that wouldn’t sound as nerdy as it really was… but there was no way to win on that one, so he asked her if she’d like to try instead.

“What’s your name?” He asked. “Maggie,” she said. Maggie. It was a nice name.

She sat down next to John, accepting the invitation to learn. He explained the process, step by step, as she began to tie her first fly. She was younger than John, he could tell, but not by that much. Her hair was wavy and long, and she had a kind demeanor that instantly pulled him in. She was deliberate, yet soft spoken, and he liked that.

To John’s delight, somewhat surprisingly, Maggie picked up the skills almost immediately – and so he just let her do all the tying, guiding her hand gently only when needed. She moved closer, nervously flipping her hair and laughing.

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As she finished her fly, John remarked at how impressed he was at her first timer skills and wondered jokingly if it was just beginner’s luck.  Removing her first fly from the vise, John wanted to give it to her to keep as a keepsake; however, she wanted to give it to him for the same reason. What to do?

“I have an idea,” said John. “Why don’t you take the one I just tied, and I’ll take the one you just tied. Tomorrow I’ll go fish it after the rain and see if it’s any good.” Maggie liked the idea – he could see it in her eyes. John knew the fly would work, but had to save his own skin just in case the new stream he was scouting was a bust…

It was getting late so they said goodnight and parted ways. John tried not to be too excited, but he was undeniably giddy about the fact that he had somehow just grabbed the interest of a woman using fly tying. What were the chances of that?

The next morning John headed out as the rain was tapering off, making sure to bring Maggie’s fly and some other supplies for the day. Arriving at the stream, he saw it was low, slow, and not exactly what he had been hoping to see. But the water was cold, and so he began fishing the likely spots.

Just a couple of minutes in he had a nice strike, and a fish was on. Bringing it to hand, John noticed how beautiful this particular brook trout was. “It must be the magic of that fly,” he thought. He fished for a couple of hours, picking mushrooms and hooking a few more brookies before it was time to head back for lunch.

After lunch, John found Maggie between her tasks and showed her some photos of the fish he had caught with her fly that morning. Maggie’s face lit up and she seemed excited and happy. Success. Maggie said she’d find him later after work.

John saw Maggie serving dinner that night, but she was nowhere to be found later on. He didn’t want to seem to eager, so he played it as cool as he could in his mind. They locked eyes at breakfast the next morning, but again there was little time off for Maggie, and John knew there was no sense in pushing to hang out while she worked. They exchanged glances, a few short conversations and a desire to spend some more time together late in the week.

It went back and forth like that for a few more days, a few words here, a glance there… until the last night in camp rolled around. After dinner, there was “sing time” and everyone sat on the porch together to listen to some staffers playing guitar and leading everyone through a classic lineup of old songs.

Maggie emerged from the staff room and came to sit down next to John. She moved in close and they shared a songbook together. John felt good singing these songs and sitting with Maggie, it was a refreshing change from the pace of normal city life back home. And Maggie wasn’t a boring city girl, either.

After the songs ended, Maggie announced she would be going for a walk. “Walks are good,” said John, nervously. There was a moment of silence. Finally she asked – “would you like to come?” Of course, he said yes, eagerly.

They walked down the path through North camp, gravel and dirt crunching beneath their feet. Talking quietly about the week, they walked out onto the dock and sat down to look at the stars. Maggie began to recount the story of how she and John had met… among other things she and John had in common. John liked the picture she was painting – it was pretty romantic, after all.

tenkara got the girl

“We make a good story,” said John. He leaned in and kissed her, not missing the moment that he would have missed too many times as a teen or a younger man. They lay together on the dock watching the shooting stars, counting satellites and listening to loons and owls together. Neither of them wanted the experience to end, but alas, as they say with all good things…

John hoped he’d get to see Maggie again, and they exchanged numbers the next day.  She lived far away, but promised to come visit. As he drove away from camp later that day, John played back these events in his head over and over. He couldn’t believe it… Tenkara actually got the girl!

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

The Art of Jim Tignor

The Art of Jim Tignor

Tenkara Angler is very fortunate to have the artistic talents of Jim Tignor back for this quarter’s issue.

In addition to the works you’ll find within these pages, Jim’s art has also graced the Spring & Summer 2016 editions.

Want to see more?
Additional examples of Jim’s art can be found on various online resources:
Facebook | Instagram | Web

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Calf Creek

Calf Creek
By Christopher Seep

Serendipity:  making a pleasant discovery by accident. 

While taking the very scenic Utah state highway 12 from Torrey to Bryce Canyon, in the midst of wonderful high desert scenery, appeared a sign, “Calf Creek Recreation Area.” Any sign with the word “creek” in it immediately gets my attention. Braking hard, I pulled into the parking lot and was immediately struck by the area’s beauty, especially clad, as it were, in autumn colors. Calf creek begins several miles up-canyon, the product of large seeps and springs. Almost impenetrable, its banks are a riot of cattail, reed, river birch, cottonwood, and willow, creating an open-sky tunnel along the stream.

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My wife and I rigged our rods in record time and surveyed the water. Shy trout darted from the root wads and undercut banks, and it became immediately apparent that stealth was necessary on this creek.  A few pools provided access from the water’s edge, but wading in the creek bed proved the most feasible approach for fishing Calf Creek, casting either up- or downstream. The creek has a moderate gradient, and, wet wading, the water against my legs had a pleasant insistence and coolness, especially given the 80-degree air temperature and full sun. Slowly shuffling upstream, I cast my 12 foot Iwana to the bank and boulder pockets. Parachute Blue Winged Olives and Elk Hair Caddis, size 18, did the trick, and that afternoon we caught many browns in the 8 to 12-inch range with some larger trout hooked and lost.

As the sunlight began to flee the canyon we had to make a choice: pack up and drive on or stay and camp for the night in one of the dozen-or-so primitive campsites. For us, that was an easy choice. We pitched the tent on one of the nicely secluded campsites, surrounded by cottonwoods and Gambel oak.  Although the other campsites were occupied, the campground was very quiet, and we almost felt alone.

Dinner on the two-burner Coleman, then a campfire to counter the high-desert evening chill. As the conversation and fire burned to embers, our attention turned to the night sky, the stars exhilarating in their number and brilliance.

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Comfortably ensconced in the tent, I burrowed into my sleeping bag, having donned gloves and a knit cap in anticipation of a cold night. Leaving the tent in the early morning hours, I was rewarded with the sighting of a shooting star, certainly an omen of some portent. We awoke to a clear 30-degree day. We put on our hiking boots, first checking for scorpions, as the sun was beginning to paint the upper reaches of the canyon. The warmth of another fire thawed our chilled limbs.

We had agreed to hike the Calf Creek Falls trail, beginning before breakfast, knowing the day would warm quickly. This is a six-mile round-trip path to a 126-foot waterfall. We agreed in advance to hike about halfway to the falls in order to leave time for another day of angling. The trail was steep and rocky, gradually climbing above the creek, but the rush of water was never out of earshot. In a couple of places beavers had dammed the flow to create large stillwater ponds. Eventually we came to ancient pictographs drawn centuries ago in red ochre, like dried blood, by the Fremont people who once inhabited this canyon.

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Near the pictographs was a small cavern in the cliff face, and old granary, where the Fremont people stored the corn, beans, and squash they cultivated. I imagined I heard their ancient voices borne across a millennium by the wind:

“This canyon, this desert,
gave us all we required.

The perennial spring hoarded the scant rain,
and, in most years, slaked our thirst.

The poor soil grew our meager maize
and fed us, along with the turkey and deer.

The rock shielded us from the summer sun
and in winter warmed us.

Pinyon and oak made possible our fire.

The endless night sky humbled us
and the coyote, too,
for we could hear his night song.

And in years when there was no rain,
when storm and hail destroyed the corn,
when turkey and deer deserted us,
some of us the Raven bore to the Spirit Mesa,
there forever to lie by the Pool of Cool Water.”

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Retracing our steps, we backtracked to the trailhead, the day now very warm, our fleece tied around our waists. Stopping to regain my wind, I crushed a bit of sage between my fingers and inhaled its intoxicating scent, one of those elemental, appealing odors like wood smoke or pine.

After a few hours’ fishing, more browns brought to hand, we reluctantly broke camp and continued our drive to our next destination.

Calf creek. Serendipity.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.