One Really Big Hole: A Story of Trout and Tenkara at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon

One Really Big Hole.
A Story of Trout and Tenkara at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon
By Rob Worthing, with photos by Kaylan & Phil

“Oh, hell yeah.”

That’s the only logical response when Phil, your best friend from college, calls you up to say he’s got a cabin reserved at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Never mind how he got it – cabin reservations at the canyon’s historic Phantom Ranch book thirteen months in advance and within minutes of opening. After twenty years of talking about fishing the Grand, he’s got reservations. So that’s exactly how I replied. On behalf of both my wife and myself, with zero hesitation.

“Oh, hell yeah.”

THE SOUTH RIM

It’s December, and I’m looking out my window at a really big hole in the ground. Phil, my wife and I are spending the night at Bright Angel Lodge, where the rooms practically fall off Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Tomorrow, we’ll make the seven and a half mile hike down the South Kaibab trail to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch.

The South Rim (Copy)

I’m a little nervous for the hike. It’s been a bit since doing something of this scale. Not like my wife, Kaylan, who just finished both the Camino de Santiago and Appalachian Trail. Or Phil, who is the kind of guy that seems to be giving Father Time the perpetual middle finger by growing stronger with age. So I busy myself by going over gear one last time.

The cabins at Phantom Ranch come stocked with linens and the like. No need to carry shelter, ground pad, or a sleeping bag. Two meals a day and a sack lunch at the ranch dining hall means packing a lot less food, too. Normally, that would make for a pretty light pack. But I’m including a few luxuries on this trip. Weather at the rim is cold this time of year, with snow and ice a real possibility on the upper section of the trail. Days are warmer at the bottom, but still cold when the sun goes down. My base pack weight for a winter trip usually comes in around ten pounds. Items like my favorite thick wool shirt with the collar that stands straight up, heavy wool cargo pants to match, a couple cigars, and a healthy dose of quality Kentucky bourbon quickly jack my pack weight to an estimated sixteen pounds or so.

Then comes the fly fishing gear. There’s trout in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. More importantly, there’s trout in Bright Angel Creek, a tenkara-perfect freestone flowing directly past Phantom Ranch and our cabin. Or at least there used to be tout. For the past decade, the Park Service has undertaken the Bright Angel Creek Trout Reduction Project, an attempt to eradicate non-native brown and rainbows inhabiting the creek. The project is one of conservation, with the ultimate goal of restoring native species like the speckled dace, flannelmouth sucker, and the endangered humpback chub. Years of electroshock harvesting while a weir dam traps fish near the creek’s mouth might mean precious few fish for me in Bright Angel. But I plan on being ready anyway.

For this trip, I pack two precision instruments for tenkara fishing in mountain streams – the Oni Type I, and the Oni Type III. At 390cm and 360cm respectfully, the two rods will allow me to cover a wide variety of conditions, and will back each other up in case of a mishap. I pack the two Oni rods along with the Tenkara Bum 36 (an all-arounder, and my wife’s favorite) in my beloved Zimmerbuilt Rod Roll. A single Tacky fly box filled with Ishigaki and Oni kebari, Red Assed Monkeys, and Grave Diggers slides into a Zimmerbuilt Strap Pack along with #3 green level line and my Arizona state license. Combo hemostat scissors and a spool of 5x tippet complete the kit. No wading gear. Just a pair of waterproof Seal Skin socks to keep my feet dry in case I find it necessary to soak my trail runners.

THE SOUTH KAIBAB

I’m more of a backcountry guy. I usually shy away from the main attractions in our National Park system. The South Kaibab and Phantom Ranch are a bit of a main attraction. Though difficult, they stay busy, both with foot traffic and burro trains. At some point during prep for the trip, I guess I had quelled my enthusiasm a bit thinking about piles of hikers and mule shit. Man, was I wrong. Yes, there is plenty of foot traffic. Yes, there are plenty of piles of mule shit. But the vistas are spectacular, truly one of a kind. I am very glad to be exactly where I am.

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Halfway down, I approach a hiker that looks like he could use a break from his uphill slog. He’s carrying a 4wt Sage in a rod tube strapped to the side of his pack, and I happily provide him with an excuse to stop and rest. “Do some fishing? How was it?”

“Yeah . . . did a lot of fishing . . . but no catching”, he replied in between huffs. “Fished Bright Angel Creek for two days. Didn’t get a thing. They’ve got the weir dam up. Fished below it, too, but no luck. Don’t think there’s much left.”

We finish the hike and check in to our cabin. The crew at Phantom Ranch doesn’t do much to improve the fishing forecast. Plenty of people trying, they say. One guy a couple weeks ago that caught some, but nobody else, they say. Guess I’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice casting.

PHANTOM RANCH AND THE MOUTH OF BRIGHT ANGEL

It takes me a whopping ten minutes to catch my first rainbow trout that night. A respectable 12 incher on a size ten Red Assed Monkey delivered with my Oni Type I. I remember a trip my friend and fellow guide, Erik, and I took to Utah’s famed Green River. The water was blown out from a large release. Nobody else thought it was worth the time, and we were the only ones on the water.

Phantom Ranch and the Mouth of Bright Angel 1 (Copy)

We slayed it, catching big brown after big brown on heavy wire worms and massive tungsten scud patterns using fixed line nymphing techniques. We couldn’t help but share our enthusiasm with the proprietors of the local fly shop as we bought up more of the same patterns. For the next two weeks, fish reports for the area talked of nothing but wire worms and tungsten scud patterns, all based on two idiots with tenkara rods that reported one good day. I was repeating that lesson on Bright Angel. Whether good news or bad, don’t pay too much attention to what other fishermen have to say. Fish your own game.

Phantom Ranch adn the Mouth of Bright Angel 3 (Copy)

One hearty stew dinner later and we’re racked out in our cabin. We’ve got two nights at the bottom. For tomorrow, we decide on a twelve-mile round-trip hike along Bright Angel Creek via the North Rim section of the South Kaibab Trail to Ribbon Falls. That first fish was near the confluence of the creek and the Colorado River, below the weir dam. I want to know what the rest of this creek holds.

RIBBON FALLS AND THE BODY OF BRIGHT ANGEL

Nothing about this place disappoints. We get an early start, long before the sun’s rays will reach the canyon bottom. Our reward is a cool, mist-laden hike capped with explosions of bight gold where the early light smashes into the highest peaks and faces. By the time we reach Ribbon Falls, it’s warm enough to enjoy the water. I hadn’t taken advantage of the bath house back at the ranch, and shed my clothes for a quick shower, au natural. Bribing Phil and Kaylan to destroy those pics is gonna cost me.

Ribbon Falls and the Body of Bright Angel 1 (Copy)

Dressed and on trail, but not dry for long. I’m right back in Bright Angel Creek, this perfect freestone stream that my tenkara rig and I have all to our selves. Every ten feet of trail seems to bring another fishy hole in sight. The creek is small enough that I manage to do all my fishing from shore. Over and over, I cut off trail and pick my way through the rock and brush on the path to the perfect presentation. I can’t get enough of it. No sense in stashing the rod at this rate. It stays rigged and at the ready, steadied in my right hand with the tip facing aft for the rest of the hike.

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I don’t catch many brown trout. The browns feed heavily on other fish, and seem to be the primary target of the Trout Reduction Program. But there are enough bows, outnumbering the browns 5 to 1 on my line. One thirteen incher comes out of a picture perfect hole, hugging the rock near the tail of the pool, right where I thought he would be. He takes me downstream where a Russian tamarisk blocks me from dropping my rod to turn him. I quickly make the decision to wet the trail runners, ensuring a gentle, successful, humane landing. We might be in the middle of a Trout Reduction Program, but no sense in breaking good habits with bad substitutions. My Seal Skins will once again prove to be worth their weight in gold with these wet shoes.

BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL

With lush riparian lines along gin clear creeks breaking up layer upon layer of differentially colored rock as old as time, the trail back to the South Rim turns out to be even more impressive than the South Kaibab we took down. My legs turn out to be up to the task of the trip as well. Despite seven and a half miles down, followed by twelve miles along the creek, and a mild hangover to start the morning (turns out they sell beer at Phantom Ranch), we manage to kill the ten-mile uphill grunt in around four hours.

Grand Canyon’s upscale El Tovar restaurant is on the menu for dinner. Steaks and a bottle of red are well earned, and that much more tasty for it. Tomorrow, we fly out. The trip turned out to be beyond great. Better than anticipated, really. And after twenty years, there was a lot of built-up anticipation.

At dinner, I catch myself contemplating the Trout Reduction Program. Back in Utah, we’ve seen successful use of rotenone to clear invasive brown and bows followed by replacement of native Bonneville cutthroat in some of Salt Lake City’s streams. I can understand the need to avoid such a program in the case of Bright Angel, but I can’t help wondering about the limitations of an electroshock strategy. Part of me hopes it isn’t too successful, leaving a few trout to chase. But the better part of me recognizes the importance of such a conservation effort, and looks forward to the day when I can return to Phantom Ranch to chase a not-so-endangered humpback chub on the fly.

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This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Tenkara in the Clouds

Tenkara in the Clouds
by Andrew M. Wayment

“There is divinity in the clouds.”
-Lailah Gifty Akita, Pearls of Wisdom: Great Mind.

With the Arkansas River totally blown out for the second year in a row, Shawn and I had to find another place to fish on our last day of annual Colorado fishing trip. Our friend, Josh Houchin planned to join us and we met up at Barry’s Den in Texas Creek to discuss our options over breakfast. Their green chili smothered omelets always put a hum in my tum.

During breakfast, we talked about tenkara and all of the negativity it gets from other fly fishers. Brother Shawn has often teased me about tenkara by using that meme with the oriental dude in class that yells out, “HA! GAY!!!”

“I have no opinion on tenkara whatsoever. I just like to give you a hard time,” Josh replied.

I boldy responded, “I really don’t care what others say about tenkara. It’s fun and it works. I let the fish be the judge. ”

When we finally decided to fish Can’t Tell Ya Creek in the Sangre De Cristos Mountains, Josh proclaimed, “That won’t hurt my feelings one bit. That is my favorite place in the whole world.”

Shawn Wayment fights a fish from the top of a waterfall. (Copy)

Josh, a career army man from Kansas, was stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs at the time, and had just received word that he was being transferred back east. So he knew his time at this special place was limited. Brother Shawn had introduced Josh to this creek years earlier as he was teaching Josh to fly fish. Both the lesson and the creek obviously stuck.

The Sangre De Cristos, which means “the blood of Christ,” are towering red-tinted mountains with numerous peaks over 14,000 feet. To get to the prime waters on Can’t Tell Ya Creek, you have to hike up quite a ways. The fishing is good all along the way, but especially above treeline.

Shawn and I had fished this creek together two times before, including the previous year. However, on that day, I was worried that the creek was too tight for tenkara and borrowed a fiberglass rod and reel from Shawn. We had a great day and caught a lot of beautiful fish.

This year, I was determined to fish nothing but tenkara come hell or high water. I opted to use my Tenkara USA Rhodo rod as it is adjustable to different lengths, which would come in handy on some of the tighter spots. Having fly fished now for over twenty years, I can attest that tenkara is every bit as effective as traditional fly fishing on small mountain creeks, maybe even more so.

As we drove to our destination, we climbed up quickly in elevation from the valley floor onto a forest road that ended in a patch of quaking aspens. After we parked, we took to the trail and hiked as quickly as we could up into the pines. Along the trail, we saw numerous Columbines, the Colorado state flower, which are some of the prettiest wild flowers I’ve ever seen.

Gorgeous scenery above the clouds. (Copy)

After about a half mile, we crossed the icy-cold creek, and then started to fish a few of the holes. At one point, Josh showed us where he caught “Bob,” a chunky resident brook trout. He let me try for him, but we did not find him. Josh mentioned, “The runoff blew out the log jam that was here and Bob must have moved on.”

We fished many of the creek’s holes on the way up. Renegades and Double Renegades were the perfect fly for this high mountain creek and, after he came up fishless, I gave Josh a Red-butted Double Renegade so he could get the skunk off. I showed Josh and Shawn, a technique that I call “Skittering,” which is when you cast the fly and then drag it either upstream or cross current to trigger a strike. Tenkara is perfect for this technique because with the longer rod, you can get most of your line and leader off the water so that only the hackles of the fly disturb the water’s surface. The cutthroat of this creek went nuts over this technique and I giggled, hooted, and hollered with each fish. I love all cutthroat, but the fish of this creek are the most beautiful cutthroat I have ever seen.

Simply beautiful. (Copy)

The higher we went, the better the fishing. We mostly fished together and cheered each other on. Once we hiked above the treeline, the stream’s gradient leveled out some and the runs were longer and held more fish. The casting was easy and the fishing was excellent. We all took turns at one beautiful run and caught twenty to thirty fish on Renegades. The camaraderie with Josh and Shawn made for as pleasant a day as I have ever had on the stream.

Josh Houchin with an beautiful little cutthroat. (Copy)

I talked Josh into trying tenkara at this open spot overlooking a waterfall with a deep hole below. I showed Josh the skittering technique in the hole below us and told him to go for it. Josh cast a few times, skittered the fly back upstream and quickly caught an eager cutthroat. They can’t resist the skitter! After he lined the fish to hand, he placed the cork grip of the rod in his teeth so he could hold the line in one hand and release the fish with the other. He then grabbed the rod and yelled out, “Good Stuff, man!” I can’t say that Josh will become a tenkara fisherman, but he certainly gained a respect for it and learned firsthand that it is fun.

Once we made it back to the trail above treeline, the clouds in the otherwise blue sky looked so close at such altitude, I almost felt I could reach out and touch them. I can see why Josh and Shawn love this creek so much. I hated to leave.

Like a kid on Christmas every time!

On the way home, we stopped at a nearby Mexican restaurant (can you expect anything different from a Wayment Brothers?). As we enjoyed our food, Josh said, “I had a total blast fishing with you guys today. Andy, I have never fished with anyone who exhibits as much genuine childlike enthusiasm and excitement as you. It was a true pleasure to fish with you.”

For me, I could think of no better compliment. “Right back at you buddy. I’d spend a day on the water with you any time.” I replied.

Isn’t that why we go fishing? To feel that wide-eyed wonder of a child again? Tenkara in the clouds is the perfect way to reconnect with the inner child.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Respecting Our Roots: Making A Case For Modern Japanese Tenkara in the USA

Respecting Our Roots: Making A Case For Modern Japanese Tenkara in the USA
By Adam Klagsbrun

Fixed line fly-fishing may be centuries old, but as it is practiced today, tenkara is new. Tenkara is modern. Tenkara is not from the USA – tenkara is from Japan.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the years about what tenkara actually is, and what the definition of tenkara should be. There has also been discussion about what tenkara is not, and that seems to have created some really interesting, and in some cases intense, dialogue. What perplexes me the most is why some people immediately get defensive and upset about being told that fishing for bass or crappie in local warm water ponds and slow-moving rivers isn’t “Tenkara.” My goal in this article is to lay a foundation of understanding, to make a case for why it is important to keep tenkara from being re-defined, and to explain why we shouldn’t be the ones to re-define it here and now.

At this point most of us know the story about how Daniel Galhardo started Tenkara USA around 2009. What many do not know, or have not paid attention to, is how he honored tenkara’s roots in Japan and did not try to sell it to us as something that it was not. Sure, he added a more minimalist pitch in his marketing, but it made sense, given that from what I recall, the earliest adopters of this sport here appeared to be, in fact, ultralight backpackers who were largely exposed to Tenkara USA via Ryan Jordan at backpackinglight.com.

What Daniel did was to go spend time with Japanese tenkara anglers who were involved in creating and naming tenkara, the people who actually defined it for modern times, in Japan. He asked them questions. He listened to the answers. He watched the anglers. He learned from them. He got the definition. What he brought and packaged for us here in the USA was very close to tenkara as it was in Japan, and so began our adventures with tenkara here in the USA.

Since that point, Tenkara has grown to encompass a larger group of fishermen and a broader range of styles. As soon as there was a market established, other companies jumped in. Many of them became known as “me too” companies – some survived by producing great quality products at reasonable prices and attained a permanent seat at the “table” of tenkara rod-makers. Others did not. A lot of anglers here “grew up” on these rods when it comes to their personal journeys into discovering tenkara. But there has been a bit of an elephant in the room… Most of these rod companies never looked to the Japanese for anything in creating companies that were selling a Japanese-designed product for a Japanese sport. Does this make any sense?

While some people may have taken advantage of Oni school, most of the owners of these other companies didn’t appear to seek out relationships with the creators of tenkara the sport, they didn’t travel to Japan, but, most importantly, they didn’t learn about what a tenkara rod taper was all about, and they didn’t license any tenkara mandrels from Japan. They still haven’t. The result? The result is that the consumers got the short end of the stick. Many of us never learned what tenkara was, where it really came from, or why any of that matters. Many of them still have never cast a rod that flexes like many of the most popular Japanese tenkara rods do.

As one example, Patagonia made an early impact of this type, offering not only a completely incorrect taper and action in a “Tenkara rod” but then going one step further to apparently take credit for tenkara here in the USA. Chouinard painted a picture of fixed line fishing for his fishing kit that was loosely inspired by Pesca Mosca Valsesiana and tenkara, without truly representing either style in their kit. He calls it “simple fly fishing.” It is not tenkara.

This was particularly disappointing, as Patagonia, usually working hard to truly engage locally with their marketing and environmental/business impact campaigns and to understand what they were getting involved in, didn’t do any of the necessary legwork at all. This helped to create a complete misunderstanding within the market, and helped to foster an idea that somehow, anything could be tenkara. I believe this is just one element of what created a lot of the early anti-tenkara “hate” from other fishing communities online, and is something I’d like to delve into deeper at another time in the future.

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It is clear there was no mal-intent in any of this, but the results were less than stellar on many levels, and some may argue that “damage” has been done. I’m glad to see other companies beginning to put effort into all of this, and I think it will go a long way to undoing some of the damage that may have been done early on. There’s more work to do.

But I digress, this article isn’t really a history lesson on the tenkara industry, it is meant to make people think. Furthermore, I truly love Patagonia as a company for many other reasons… I don’t bring this up to judge any company or person, or to be negative. I bring it up to paint a picture of how tenkara began to lose its way here in the USA, and how tenkara went from a style of fishing to a becoming a marketing term.

I believe that bringing this reality to attention is important, because it has the potential to be dangerous for the knowledge and the future of the sport. If we allow tenkara to simply become a marketing term to sell rods and gear, not only will we dilute the meaning of tenkara, but we will all be personally responsible for undoing decades of work that the masters such as Ishigaki-San, Sakakibara-San and countless others have worked so hard to create. Do we, the USA, want to be known for effectively destroying a well-defined niche sport with established teachers & sponsors, established methods and styles, and be happy about that? I certainly do not think so, and I believe most tenkara anglers here do not want to do that either. Do we?

What is it about? Honor. Honor is important in Japan. Honor is important everywhere. It would surely be dishonorable to have taken this wonderful sport from Japan and to then turn it into something completely different, simply because we don’t want to create new words for what we are doing now, do we? I don’t see how these shortcuts would benefit us, or the sport of tenkara here.

We have all advanced to the point where we understand why tenkara is not cane pole fishing, and how it is not simply dapping. I believe at this point, now, we have finally gotten to a point where we have learned enough to know that tenkara also is not fishing for bass or warm water species in slow and still water. There are enough Japanese anglers, facts and history to support this claim. Ishigaki-San and many others have defined tenkara – so yes, tenkara has a definition already.

As Ishigaki-San and many of the others have confirmed, tenkara means fishing for trout in bubbling brooks and raging rivers with some elevation change, using a fly, utilizing a long rod and a very light line. Tenkara is as much about casting as it is about drifting, something I used to incorrectly speak about by saying pretty much the opposite. I am just as guilty in doing damage to the definition and image of tenkara as any company or blogger or early adopter who decided to use western fly lines, floating lines or dry flies.

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Dr. Hisao Ishigaki
I didn’t mean to dilute tenkara by pitching bead heads, ultra-short lines and nymphing techniques… but I did – heck, they worked! But I now know more about how to cast correctly, how to fish a slightly longer line effectively, how to manipulate flies more effectively, as well as more about what tenkara actually is – and with this knowledge comes new understanding. What follows that for me is just a lot more good old fun while fishing, a lot more success catching the “hard to catch” fish, a more “zen” attitude on the stream, and a mission to spread this all to others.

Tenkara was defined by the most active, important anglers within the sport at that time, many of whom we know of today. They are the “masters.” The word tenkara was chosen by this group of existing, established Japanese tenkara anglers, some of those masters and their teachers, in order to help distinguish between the new western style of Kebari Tsuri (fly fishing,) and the traditional old style with a fixed line… then also called Kebari Tsuri.

Tenkara is not a broadly defined style. It is a niche that was created in order to describe something very specific – something that was evolving both alongside, and separately from, other methods of fly-fishing. So in effect, tenkara has evolved as a niche within a niche. It followed a path to that point that helped to define the techniques and the tools of the sport, and we have barely even begun to scratch the surface of all of this over here in the USA. We are lucky to be exposed to decades, if not centuries, of this knowledge from Japan; lucky to have friends in Japan to teach us the right ways, and lucky to have all found this wonderful sport.

So my question is, given these realities, do we, as a community, really want to go backwards in time and re-define tenkara as something broader that encompasses all kinds of fly-fishing? Do we really want to promote a train of thought that undoes the very ideas of why tenkara was defined in the first place? What good would it serve to be the ones who undermine the very people we are trying to learn from right now? Does this help us, and does this have a positive impact on the sport of tenkara?

Tenkara, as it is defined from Japan, is well established for these reasons – and there is a lot we have left to learn before we are ready to go off and take it to the next level ourselves. For if we cannot first fully learn and understand the myriad of techniques and knowledge that has already been accumulated, all we will be doing is throwing that out the window, by letting tenkara become a marketing term.

In Japan, they define the fishing style by the kind of fishing you do, not the rod you have. Because of that, each style of fishing has developed its own gear… carp fishing for Herabuna carp is called Herabuna fishing. There are “Hera rods” for that. Chub fishing for Hae in mountain streams is called Hae fishing. Did you know there’s a whole category of rods that are sold for this too? The Daiwa Rinfu is one of them. Ayu fishing utilizes insanely expensive and much longer rods, and you use a half of a fish as the bait. Most of us have heard of Keiryu fishing too, as Chris Stewart has largely been responsible for making people aware of this style and marketing it as its own unique thing – as well as selling the rods to us here in the US.

So I believe that it is time for us to begin to communicate more accurately about modern Japanese tenkara, to accept its definition more clearly, to think about using Japanese carp rods for carp, salmon rods for salmon, and calling each method of fishing by its own name as has already been defined. Maybe it is even time for us to be creative and to make our own names as well. There is no reason that anyone cannot use their tenkara rod to fish however they’d like and for whatever species of fish they’d like to fish for. But I do believe it is as good a time as any to begin to re-define that stuff for what it is, instead of pretending that it is all actually called tenkara.

Japanese tenkara anglers I have met and watched interviews about have always seemed to say that we in the USA will have a profound impact on tenkara, and suggested that many of the next great innovations within the sport would come from us here, not from within Japan. I am sure these innovations didn’t involve re-defining the entire sport for the sake of marketing. Do we not want to make the best impact on tenkara that we can? Can’t we still do that while also, at the same time, creating new names for the fishing we like to do with fixed line rods that doesn’t fit the definition of tenkara? I believe that we can.

I’m very much looking forward to the evolution of our fixed line fishing industry here, of Tenkara, Keiryu, and of the people involved in it. I’m looking forward to continuing this journey of knowledge among all of you, no matter what kind of fish you want to catch or what kind of line you like to use. But most importantly, I’m looking forward to doing a better job honoring those from which we took and learned this wonderful Japanese sport here in the USA.

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This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016-17 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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.

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.