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

Northeast Brookies:
Where the Streams Have No Names, Leave the 12-Footer at Home
Words by George Roberts
Photos by Brad Clark

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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 the Tenkara Bum, Chris Stewart, 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 fewer 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 fewer 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 the 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.; Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 24; Shimotsuke Kosasa, 6’10”; Nissin Air Stage 190; Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 18

Once you’ve procured your rod, your next consideration is the 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.

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).

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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

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

2018 Instagram Tenkara Rod Popularity Contest

Earlier in the week, I thought it might be fun to throw up a quick little poll on the Tenkara Angler Instagram account, asking viewers a fairly straightforward question:

“What tenkara rod are you using? List your favorite in the comments”

Well, the community took that challenge and ran with it. Some people were very specific with their feedback, citing several different “favorite” rod models depending on the situation, while others just vaguely mentioned a brand, with no reference to rod model, size, etc…

So I gathered that information and made this infographic recapping the results.

InformalTenkaraRod Poll

While I’m no statistician, there are a few interesting things I noticed in summarizing the data. First, and not surprisingly, Tenkara USA was the runaway winner, not only in overall brand affinity (26%) but also rod models, with five of the top seven! The Sato was the overall winner with 10% of the vote, but the newcomer Hane came in second with 7%. Curious if the Hane’s strong showing is more a result of people just getting the new rods in their hands now, and that’s literally what they’re fishing… because remember, the survey wasn’t “what’s the best tenkara rod” it was “what tenkara rod are you using?”

I also took note of Tenkara Rod Co.‘s impressive showing. I’ve always recognized they sold a lot of rods, however, I never really noticed them being used or mentioned much in my personal tenkara circles. That said, the audience surveyed was from Instagram, where Tenkara Rod Co. has a huge following. Five of their rods were mentioned, with the Teton being the preferred model.

Finally, it was nice to see the community is exploring a bit, with various Japanese makers littering the results. Oni, Nissin, Suntech, Shimano, Daiwa, & Tenryu all seemed to split a highly representative “Japanese” vote, with Nissin scoring the top Japanese brand honors, but the Oni Type III the overwhelming favorite model. (#savethecamohandle)

In the end, this was nothing more than an exercise in entertainment. Almost 70 individual results were tallied over the course of a few days, so while it’s a sample size of some corner of our tenkara community, it’s certainly not a definitive one.

If you’re interested in the full results in raw data form, see below. Thanks to everybody that participated, maybe we’ll try a few more of these in the future. If you’re not following Tenkara Angler on Instagram, check us out HERE.

BRAND AFFINITY VOTES % TOTAL
Tenkara USA 17 26%
Tenkara Rod Co. 8 12%
Nissin 6 9%
Oni 5 8%
Badger 4 6%
Generic 3 5%
Suntech/Tbum 3 5%
Tanuki 3 5%
Dragontail 3 5%
Tenkara Times 3 5%
Daiwa 2 3%
Shimano 2 3%
Tenryu 2 3%
Three Rivers 1 2%
Patagonia/TFO 1 2%
Esoteric 1 2%
Zen Tenkara 1 2%
65 100%
ROD PREFERENCE VOTES % TOTAL
Tenkara USA Sato 7 10%
Tenkara USA Hane 5 7%
Tenkara Rod Co Teton 4 6%
Oni Type III 4 6%
Tenkara USA Rhodo 3 4%
Tenkara USA Ito 3 4%
Oni Type I 3 4%
Suntech TenkaraBum TB40 2 3%
Nissin ZeroSum 320 2 3%
Tenkara USA Amago 2 3%
Tenkara Tanuki 325 2 3%
Tenkara Rod Co Cascade 2 3%
Dragontail Komodo 2 3%
Tenryu TF39TA 2 3%
Nissin Royal Stage 360 2 3%
Oni Honryu 395 2 3%
Nissin Pro Spec 320 1 1%
$10 Broomstick 1 1%
Daiwa Enshou LT39S 1 1%
Three Rivers Confluence 1 1%
Garbolino (?) 10K 360 1 1%
Badger UNC 1 1%
Tenkara Times TRY 300 1 1%
Tenkara Rod Co Mini Sawtooth 1 1%
Tenkara Rod Co Sierra 1 1%
Dragontail Hydra 1 1%
Badger BadAxe 1 1%
Tenkara USA Iwana 1 1%
Shimano Pack Tenkara 1 1%
Badger Scout 1 1%
Patagonia Soft Hackle 10’6″ 1 1%
Tenkara Rod Co Grand Teton 1 1%
Tenkara Rod Co Owyhee 1 1%
Suntech Kurenai 1 1%
Tenkara Times TRY 360 1 1%
Tenkara Times Watershed 330 1 1%
Nissin Pro Spec 2-Way 360 1 1%
68 100%

 

The Tenkara USA Hane “Adventure” Rod

On Thursday, April 5th, 2018, Tenkara USA made their first new rod in several years, the Hane, available for sale.

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Image: Tenkara USA

You may recall seeing the distinctively white Hane before, as it was initially sold in prototype form at the 2017 Tenkara Summit. Well, after being in the wild for a few months in the hands of “testers” it appears that Tenkara USA had reaped enough user feedback to make a few changes and go into production.

From the Tenkara USA release:

“The Hane (pronounced like “huh – nay”) is a super compact all-around tenkara rod that will quickly become your favorite adventure rod. Measuring just under 15 inches when collapsed, but extending to 10ft 10in (330cm), the Hane fits nicely inside a small daypack, making this a superb tenkara rod for backpacking, bikefishing and other adventures. Whether you are targeting trout or bass, the Hane was designed to work well in your mountain streams as well as your urban fishing outings. It’s a rod that can tag along in a variety of conditions without compromising durability.

We decided to make this rod white, a unique color among our lineup. Part of the reason for that is the idea of having a rod that will blend in well with open skies above. Whereas a black rod does a good job blending in with canopy, its movement tends to stand out when fishing ponds and open meadow streams. The tip of the rod is black.”

Here are the Hane’s specs:

Weight: 3.5 oz (100 g);
Closed length: 15″ (38cm)
Open lengths: 10’10” (330cm)*
Handle length: 8″ (20.5cm)
Segments: 12

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Image: Tenkara USA

Personally, I only had the opportunity to dry cast the Hane prototype at the Tenkara Summit and noted the rod to be very cosmetically pleasing but a bit stiffer than I’d prefer. However, the comments left on initial Facebook posts from Tenkara USA representatives indicated some small changes were made based on tester feedback to give the Hane a little bit more flex, while still maintaining the “backbone” and ruggedness needed to make this rod a true multi-purpose (& species) tool.

So is the Hane your next “adventure rod?” I guess only time will tell. If you’re interested in giving the Hane a try, they’re now available on Tenkara USA’s website with an MSRP of $150; however, several Tenkara USA dealers (should you happen to live near one) have also been mentioning on social media that they are currently in stock as well.

Do You Even Tomezuri Bro?

Couldn’t help but laugh when combing the internet for the latest in tenkara news and notes. Came across this clever t-shirt, that pokes a little bit of fun at the “seriousness” that can, unfortunately, run rampant in our larger tenkara community.

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I reached out to Team Ratskin Canoe (see Fall 2016 issue of for an explanation) to see if they needed a webpage to “host” the sale of these tees… hence this post & redirect.

“Ok Gang, so we are going to finally get moving on something that some of us have been wanting to do for a while… we are starting a fund to help bring some Japanese guys to the US to hang out and fish Tenkara with us.

We are going to kick it off with a long-sleeved, non-cotton athletic shirt that’s designed for fishing on stream, hiking and wearing around town.

Brought to you by Ratskin Canoe & Friends, we offer to everyone the “Do You Even Tomezuri, Bro?” tenkara shirt. The price will be $35 plus shipping. All proceeds will go to the Ratskin Canoe Tenkara Education Fund, or RCTEF, which aims to educate Americans about Japanese Tenkara, and promote real-life social interactions and meet-ups between Tenkara enthusiasts from different countries.

You can place an order using the PayPal button below. $35 plus $3 shipping.”

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

For those that don’t understand the joke, “Tomezuri” is one of many fly manipulation techniques used in tenkara fishing. This particular technique actually anchors the fly in the current and can be seen in action below in this video from Akai Kitsune:

Wading Small Streams: Making A Case For Wet Wading

Editor’s Note: While the summer season is winding down for many, it’s still a great opportunity to get out on the water. Adam Klagsbrun wrote this great piece for Tenkara Angler (Winter 2015-16) that provides some different wading options for those looking to enter a small stream fishery.

Wading Small Streams:
Making A Case For Wet Wading
By Adam Klagsbrun

Fishing small streams with a Tenkara rod takes specific form for some, as the “long rod and short line” approach allows for the less-glamorous casting methods needed to present flies to small targets and in tight quarters when there’s no room to backcast at all.

But beyond presenting a fly, there is an issue at hand that many anglers don’t seem to consider quite as readily… that there’s a better way to present themselves on these streams – one that promotes a more comfortable and versatile approach to crawling around the banks and walking through the water.

There are two main reasons to consider a wet wading setup. The first relates to the reality that you are not going to be stepping in water much higher than your knees in a small stream because you don’t need to.

Second, instead of using your expensive waterproof waders that will get torn, poked with thorns, scuffed on rocks, and generally abused while sweating profusely as you get a real work out navigating the stream; rejoice in the knowledge that you now have shin and knee protection, thorn protection, and will generally just experience less discomfort.

Enter the Japanese-inspired idea of wearing a neoprene gaiter on top of a high neoprene sock. This system has a few advantages over wearing waders and is something you’ll encounter if you fish in Japan.

First off, your body regulates the temperature automatically. It works like a wetsuit. Summary: water soaks through, you get wet. Your body heats up the water between your skin and the neoprene, and you are in the comfort zone.

Additionally, you don’t have to be sweaty in your waders. On a hot day, the cool water keeps you much more comfortable than your waders ever could. On a cold day, your body temperature kicks in and keeps you warm.

Sure, there will be moments when you step into some fast water and the warm water gets displaced. Fear not! Your body will remedy the situation quickly. This system works even when temps are down into the 40’s. It becomes more important for you to bring extra layers when it’s colder out, such as a jacket and insulating layer like a fleece in case the cold water begins to sap heat from your core.

The rest of the outfit consists of quick-drying outdoor pants or ¾ length pants. Roll the legs up to your knee, and in the summer you might want to wear shorts. When it gets cold, use a cooler-weather soft shell hiking pant that has a little more thickness and some wind resistance. I can’t say enough great things about the versatility of the setup. If you’d like to try it out, I’ll include a list of some current options. Wet wading socks can be purchased online or at most fly fishing stores around the country. Use your existing wading boots, or size down if you go for the thinner summer wet wading socks.

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Daiwa Neo NG-400 Gaiter – a black, knee-high gaiter with a padded knee and Velcro closure. This gaiter is designed to be used alone, or with a neoprene wading sock (preferable.) It is not wide enough to fit around most waders.

Little Presents Wader Gaiters – These are thicker neoprene, wider circumference and have longer Velcro straps so they are well suited to be used on top of waders – but can also be used alone. If you have extremely skinny legs, these might not be the best option for you, but they work.

Tiemco Foxfire Airista Gaiters & High Socks – These are the ones I’ve been using. They are similar to the Daiwa Neo Gaiters but are a different color and a slightly different cut. They are also not designed to fit over waders, they can be used alone, or with the Airista thigh-high wet wading sock. I highly recommend this combination.

If you enjoyed this article by Adam, you can read more of his work at his blog, Of Rock & Riffle.

An Angler’s Guide To Insect Repellants & Other Ways To Prevent Insect Bites

Editor’s Note: It’s atypical to take articles from Tenkara Angler magazine and re-post them here on the blog. That said, this article is so informative (and topical in these summer months), it probably deserves to be caught up in things like Google search for all to find. It was written by Rob Worthing for the Summer 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler. I hope you find it helpful, I know I did. 

AN ANGLER’S GUIDE TO INSECT REPELLANTS AND OTHER WAYS TO PREVENT INSECT BITES
By Rob Worthing, MD FAWM

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The author displays a classic rash of tick-borne illnesses like Lyme

I’ve always wanted to write something about biting insects for anglers. But, the inevitable distractions – like actually fishing – always got in the way. Today, I find myself in a position where I have no excuse. Instead, I appear to have a tick-borne illness. I got lazy, didn’t protect myself, and I got bit. As I sit at home, using up my sick days from work, enjoying a screaming fever, fatigue, malaise, headache, and one crazy bull’s eye rash, it only seems fitting that I write this article. So read up and arm yourself with some knowledge, because you don’t want what I got!

Each summer across fly fishing rags, forums, blogs, and social media outlets the debate over the best line of defense from mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting insects erupts. Why? Two reasons. First, these little bloodsuckers are annoying. Second, they carry diseases that we really don’t want. Diseases like Lyme, West Nile, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tick-Borne Paralysis to name a few. Throw in Zika and a few news reports on Powassan virus this summer, and things get bonkers.

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Matt Sment fishes a buggy lie in the Driftless region of Wisconsin

The difficult part for most of us fisherpersons is trying to figure out the good information from the bad. What really works, and what doesn’t work so well? What’s safe, and what’s not so safe to use? Many of us have a particular product that works well for us around our home waters. Such experience can be very helpful. To further help us make an educated choice, this article will summarize the best evidence on the subject of insect bite prevention that science has provided us to date. Only here the info is geared for real-world use by anglers, not so much the scientists.

A fly fisherperson can control biting insects in two ways. First, using physical barriers. Second, using chemical barriers like insect repellants. There’s also the not-so-effective, sometimes dangerous stuff out there that we ought to address. That gives this article a total of three parts – physical barriers, chemical barriers, and not-so-effective/dangerous stuff. And since the chemicals are what seem to be debated the most, we’ll subdivide a few to try and provide everyone with an evidence-based plan to prevent bites they can feel good about.

Physical Barriers
Physical barriers are your primary protection from biting insects. A physical barrier is anything that minimizes access of biting insects to your body, whether limiting exposed skin to flying insects, or entry points for crawling insects.

  • Light colors. Light colors are less attractive to mosquitoes and certain biting flies and make it easy to spot crawling insects for removal.
  • Layers. Tuck in your shirt and pants. Button sleeves and collars. Overlap base layers, socks, outer garments, and accessories like gloves. This eliminates entry points for crawling insects like ticks.
  • Loose fit. This deters thru-bites from mosquitoes and certain biting flies.
  • Long sleeves and pants. Limiting skin exposure minimizes access for biting insects. Popular sun protection items like fishing gloves, glasses, and neck gaiters help, too.
  • A wide-brimmed hat. Black flies and midges avoid the area under the brim. That’s right, somebody actually published a study on wide-brimmed hats.
  • Mesh. If you want to use a mesh head net, or looking at a mesh tent/bivy, get one that is 27 mesh/inch or finer to keep the smallest biting flies away.

Chemical Barriers
Choosing and using chemical insecticides and repellants can be intimidating, even scary. But if you want the most effective prevention strategies, you need chemical barriers. Here are the important facts about three different effective chemical strategies.

1. Permethrin + DEET
This is the most effective combo known, and it has the longest track record of safe use. Permethrin is a clothing treatment. DEET goes on the exposed skin. These products should be used in combination. Together, they can prevent 99.9% of mosquito bites (1 vs. 1888 bites/hour in one Alaskan study).

Permethrin:

  • A synthetic version of a natural chemical found in chrysanthemums.
  • It works by repelling insects and killing some on contact.
  • Resulted in 100% tick death after contact with a treated cloth.
  • Also effective against chiggers, fleas, lice, mosquitoes, and biting flies.
  • Poor absorption and rapid inactivation in mammals, but you can still make yourself sick if you don’t use it right
  • Meant for treating clothing only, NOT SKIN!
  • Be sure the clothing is completely DRY before using
  • Don’t treat underwear, base layers or the inside of hats. Socks are okay, though.
  • It is also really toxic to aquatic life. Luckily, once dry it is water-insoluble, which means you can wear them fishing without any worry. Just don’t treat your clothes around any water sources, and (repeat) make sure clothing is completely DRY before using.
  • Not only is it water-insoluble once dry, but resistant to UV degradation, too. It will still repel insects after as many as 50 washes, but its ability to kill flies on contact wears out faster.
  • It binds to cotton and nylon really well.
  • It does not bind to DWR treated fabric like your rain jacket and tent fly. A lot of outdoor shirts and pants have a DWR coating, too. So check before treating.
  • It is flammable in liquid form, but dry clothes are fine. So treat your clothes before you travel – don’t try to bring a bottle on the plane.
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Sawyer Permethrin for treating clothing & gear

DEET:

  • Works by vaporizing, forming a barrier of vapor over your skin.
  • Effective against mosquitos, biting flies, fleas, ticks, chiggers, and mites. But less effective against certain species of biting midges.
  • 200 million users worldwide, less than 50 cases of significant toxicity in over 50 years of use. It has the longest track record of safety of any insect repellant, as long as you FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS.
  • Use on exposed skin only. No need to put it on under your clothes.
  • Don’t put it around cuts and scrapes or mucous membranes like your eyes, nose, mouth, or genitals.
  • Don’t rub it on your head. A little swipe on the back of the neck is fine.
  • 100% DEET is BAD. It is less effective, and increase the risk of making yourself sick.
  • Look for a 20-40% concentration of DEET. Less than 20%, and you loose duration of effect. There is zero added benefit to concentrations above 40%.
  • Also look for a polymerized DEET. Polymerization slows the vaporization process. This stuff is controlled release, lasting 12 hours.
  • It still repels if you sequentially apply it with sunscreen, only the SPF of the sunscreen might be reduced.
  • DEET is a plasticizer. It melts plastic. Keep it away from your gear.
  • For all of the above reasons, wash your hands really good right after putting it on, before you touch your gear or go fishing.
  • 3M Ultrathon and Sawyer Controlled Release are good. These are around 33% DEET in a polymerized form.
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3M Ultrathon, a sustained release DEET product

2. Permethrin + Picaridin
A great alternative for anglers. We already covered Permethrin. Picaridin is a skin repellant like DEET, only with some bonus features.

Picaridin

  • Used on the exposed skin similar to DEET.
  • Effective against mosquitos, biting flies, and ticks.
  • 20% concentration offers 8-hour protection.
  • Not greasy like polymerized DEET.
  • It won’t melt plastics, and won’t hurt your gear.
  • It’s a newer product, so it doesn’t have the long track record like DEET does. But studies so far suggest it is as effective and safe.
  • Natrapel makes a great 20% picaridin option.
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Natrapel, an effective alternative for anglers that won’t melt your gear

3. Oil of Citronella
For those who want an effective all-natural option.

  • The most effective botanical repellant.
  • EPA registered in 1948, so it has a long track record of safe use, too.
  • But you still have to FOLLOW DIRECTIONS to avoid getting sick.
  • Used on exposed skin like DEET and Picaridin.
  • The downside is a really short duration of effect. The recommendation is for reapplication every hour to maintain its efficacy.

Not So Effective/Dangerous Stuff

  • Area Repellants. Candles, coils, butane burners, vermiculite, etc. Their efficacy under ideal conditions varies widely. Wind, humidity, and other environmental factors impact the effective area. In Japan, incense coils burn regularly around the dinner table after a long day of fishing. If you’re going to fork out the dough, just know that the evidence is kind of weak and that their ability to deter insects is dependent on a lot of other things.
  • For Wear Devices. Bracelets, pins, and the like. Their efficacy is limited to the immediate vicinity around the device. In other words, the skin right around the bracelet on your wrist. Might be enough if you’re covered up, but there is likely a better option out there for you.
  • Animal Products. Flea and tick collars, cattle tags, and the like. These contain a variety of pesticides not cleared for human use. Adverse local and systemic effects are associated with use in humans. For example, more than one Marine or Soldier has suffered chemical burns on their legs from using flea collars as anklets. Leave the animal products to the animals.
  • Ingested Products. Garlic, vitamin B1, and more. There just isn’t any evidence to support their use. Some can be harmful. For example, eating match heads to prevent chigger bites. Sulfur products used on the skin are, in fact, effective against chiggers. But eating match heads doesn’t work. Neither does getting drunk. In fact, the metabolites that leak out of our skin after a heavy night of drinking might attract certain flying insects.
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Big fish and bloodsuckers abound in the author’s home water