Home by Tuesday: A Memoir of Solo Packing with Tenkara

Editor’s Note: This work week seems to be dragging on… so let’s take a few minutes and escape to the mountains, okay? Let’s access an essay by Erik Ostrander from the Tenkara Angler archives. “Home by Tuesday” originally appeared in the Winter 2015-16 issue; I hope you enjoy.

ERiK Ostrander (23 of 9) (Copy)

Home by Tuesday
A Memoir of Solo Packing with Tenkara
by ERiK Ostrander

I don’t know the date, but I do know that it’s Sunday. I know it’s Sunday because I have to be home on Tuesday smelling like a rose with clean teeth and a pair of nice pants for a job interview. It’s a job I already have, but they insist on doing it all formal. It’ll be nice to teach for another year. It gives me time to forget what the date is for three months out of the year.

Except when I pick up the odd job here and there.

I just finished a week teaching a Mythbusters science class to a horde of 11 to 14-year-old, self-indulgent, self-centered, and overly hyper kids. My class is fun though. We light things on fire, break stuff, get dirty. You know, all the stuff that your parents never let you do. As soon as the class ended, after five days of high octane “fun,” I packed up the truck and left with the dogs for the mountains.

I know that getting away from humanity is not an original idea, but all I can think about is not seeing any more early-pubescent children. Unfortunately, the parking lot at the trailhead is packed. Truck after truck and cars with window shades are in nice rows along the side of the lot with the hill. The tree side is lined with parallel parkers. I find a spot furthest from the trailhead, back up into a row against the hill, and put my window shade up.

As I begin hiking into wherever my first night stay will be (I haven’t decided yet), my hopes that all those trucks and window-shaded cars were solo packers like myself change to doom and fear as the echoes and screeches of Boy Scouts radiate out from their camps. I try to pass by unnoticed as if their seeing me would validate that I was not alone in the vast area known as the high Uintas Wilderness. Wilderness being the noun that drew me here.

I have a certain amount of trepidation toward this trip, and it doesn’t come just from the Boy Scouts. I guess it’s my own fault. I am packing light with much of the gear coming out for its virgin trip and relying on the bulk of my food to come from fish that I will need to catch. I’ve never been to this particular area and am not sure what I may be getting into. It is also my first time out like this since I’d gotten sick a few years ago. Guinness, my Australian Kelpie, can handle himself, but I’m not completely sure about Wabbit, my new eight-month-old blue heeler puppy. Because of all these reasons, I chose an area labeled on the map as an “area of concentrated use”. It also has a ton of lakes and associated myths that the next state-record grayling could be had in one of the nearby lakes that are less traveled to. Eventually, I gravitate more towards the idea of a lake less traveled to.

ERiK Ostrander (3 of 16) (Copy)

The remote lakes are, of course, less traveled to because they have no trail and, maybe, the hike is a deathly hike over granite boulders that grab and bite at the skin of your shins. The number of scratches and amount of blood that can ensue from a hike that boasts of having large fish is of such great amount as to scare off anyone who regularly shows their legs. I show my legs but as a badge of honor and bravery. One guidebook describes the hike to these pristine lakes as, “tricky boulder hopping,” and suggests you should, “not attempt this hike with full packs on. It is treacherous without packs – and downright foolish with them.” Oh, and “full of huge spiders.” I, of course, decide to go to these lakes with full commitment, and for me, full commitment means a pack. No day hikes for me, because what if the fishing was so good that I wanted to stay the night?

I pack a custom Zimmerbuilt pack as lightly as I can. One change of clothes in case I get soaked by rain or an absent-minded fall into an icy, glacier-fed stream. A silnylon tarp covers my bed and the dogs if they so choose. My trusty down sleeping bag of two decades gets smushed down to fill every single extra bit of room in the pack. It’s like my magic Tetris piece that always gets me a thousand extra points and advances me to the next level. The pack is a joy to carry, even though carrying 25 to 30 pounds isn’t really all that fun. Regardless, the craftsmanship of the pack is what bolsters my confidence to hike over miles of trail-less wilderness filled with skin-shredding boulders and angry spiders. I carry on, away from the echoing hollers of troops of Boy Scouts.

I also carry very little food, so I need to catch fish. Oatmeal, Clif bars, rice (or quinoa), and a little fruit leather are the only calories I bring with me… well, at least the only calories I can put in my mouth. I sustain myself on the trout that can sometimes be abundant but are always beautiful in these alpine lakes. A 4.0-meter tenkara rod is my hunting tool of choice. John Vetterli, a business partner and friend, makes some fantastic fluorocarbon furled lines, and a 6.0-meter line helps me get the extra distance I need to drop a little kebari within a couple of feet of that last dimple I saw that just might produce my next appetizer. Presentation is key, and a small foam box of kebari, dry flies, nymphs, and small streamers will almost always guarantee a trout or grayling to bite and make the line sing a beautiful tone.

ERiK Ostrander (2 of 16) (Copy)

The hike is arduous. My legs ache from the effort and my lungs burn as they try to soak up the small amount of oxygen that is available at 12,000 feet (3600 m). The sweat falls as my body struggles to stay cool and I help it by splashing water on myself at every stream crossing. The dogs pant under their backpacks, but must be in better shape than I because every bird or squirrel gets chased away. I guess all those afternoons of sprinting after a bright green tennis ball will get you in shape (maybe I should do more than just stand there and give praise when the tennis ball is brought back to my feet). This hike is tough and I’m drawn back to the reality of the challenge with a fresh cut on my shin that drips blood slowly to my sock. I let one of the dogs lick my wound dry and continue on to the lake that boasts, or rather goads me on towards, dreams of big trout.

In the city, I love eating sushi and the raw fish that are often associated with it. However, I like my trout cooked. Trout cooked over an open fire are my favorite, but getting an open fire reliably while backpacking can be quite the challenge. During the late summer, thunderstorms roll in often dumping cold water that saturates anything that could be flammable. Throughout the day I collect fines and stuff them into my pockets to keep them dry or to heat up and evaporate the wet with my body heat. Fire steel and the sharp spine of a knife can throw a hot spark that, if you’re lucky and practiced, will dance on your dry fines long enough to generate combustion. I always try primitive fire starting methods for at least 45 minutes to an hour before giving up. A small splash of denatured alcohol for my cat-food stove helps the next spark to light my fire.

Finally arriving at the lake, I am greeted by a small spattering of yellow lily pad flowers. Beyond the yellow and green floating mass, I see little dimples radiating out all over the lake. The water by the edge is shallow and I can see clearly through the glacial water to see pairs of grayling cruising the water. My pack drops off my shoulders, I unload the dogs, and I stuff my pockets with a line-spool, tippet, and a fly box. My tenkara rod is in my hands as I beeline towards the closest collection of risers. Lillian slides out. Line loops over and cinches tight. Rod telescopes out as the line-spool unwinds line. I already have a small kebari tied on and in under a minute I let my fly go, casting a false cast and shooting my tiny, hackled imposter gently near a radiating ripple. I can barely glimpse a silver, shining torpedo of a fish turn towards my offering and gently take the bug into its mouth. Set! The calm explodes with a staccato tail dance on the water. The colors are like the silky shimmering dress that scantily clads a skinny supermodel. It is sexy. It is stunning. I turn my little grayling’s head and pull it towards me.

ERiK Ostrander (15 of 16) (Copy)

The beauty of alpine lakes and their brookies, cutts, and grayling are best described through metaphor. When I fish a lake that rarely gets fished it’s as if I am the only man at the hippest nightclub. It is ladies’ night and all the women are dressed to get the most attention. I am in awe at how they flirt with me, and as I catch fish after fish, I have to decide which one will come home with me. This is every man’s dream.

For now, I am happy. I am smelly, standing in frigid water, socks and shoes wet. I still don’t know what the date is. I have a faint idea it may be Monday, and if I think real hard I might remember to get home by Tuesday.

ERiK Ostrander (8 of 16) (Copy)

One of the Tenkara Guides, ERiK Ostrander lives in Utah.

The Theology of Tenkara, Trout, and Japan

Editor’s Note: While the tenkara fishing “season” winding down for many, I thought it might be a good time to pull some old articles out of the archives. Isaac Tait wrote this great piece for Tenkara Angler (Winter 2015-16) that reflects on many aspects of his personal tenkara experience.

The Theology of Tenkara, Trout, and Japan
by Isaac Tait

“The angler forgets most of the fish he catches, but he does not forget the streams and lakes in which they were caught.” – Charles K. Fox

Reflections

In the years that I have pursued Tenkara I’ve caught several thousand fish. While I certainly don’t remember them all, I will never forget the places that I went with my Tenkara rod. Sometimes a special fish or a unique landscape comes along though and leaves a mark upon my soul. The others become an amalgamation and collage of feelings, sensations, emotions, and observations organized into one part of my brain -set aside for moments of quiet introspection.

My first Brook and Rainbow Trout were caught in a small mountain stream near Thurmont, Maryland – within the boundaries of Catoctin Mountain Park; my first Brown Trout was caught not too far away from there in Beaver Creek; and then there was my first Golden Trout, which was caught in a tributary of the Middle Fork Kings River near Le Conte Canyon, California.

These were special fish; accomplishments that required hours, sometimes even several days of quiet patience to attain. However, the thing that has really left an indelible imprint on me has been Japan.

Photo 1

Japan

I will never forget the first native trout I caught in Japan. I was kneeling in a shallow pool, frigid water running across my legs sending a constant chill down my spine. Above me mountains capped with snow scraped the sky, while all around me the alpine jungle emitted an incessant cacophony of a million birds in song, the wind rustling the leaves, and the roar of water cascading over rock. All of this was pushed to the back of my mind though as I concentrated on the pool four meters in front of me. A tree had fallen into the river over the winter, creating a perfect habitat for my quarry – the Japanese trout known as Iwana.

My kebari splashed lightly into the water and began to tumble and twirl in the current. Suddenly I felt the slightest of tugs – was it a leaf, maybe a branch? I lifted the rod and the eruption of the tranquil water confirmed that it was not floating detritus but my first Iwana! A minute or so later I was cradling her in my hands, careful to keep her submerged while my friends dug for their cameras. Once her likeness had been saved as a series of ones and zeroes I released her back into the wild – a little more tired and little wiser than she was a few minutes ago.

Photo 2

Japan is an empire of such intense beauty that sometimes I wonder if I am on another planet, and it has affected me more deeply than I could have ever imagined. The people, the food, the landscape, the history, the culture, and of course its fish; everything just defies all that I have come to know and think as an American. The Japanese way of life is one of peaceful, meek, and tenacious introspection, and is difficult for my ‘Western’ brain to understand sometimes. In immersing myself in the cultural differences I have come to a greater understanding of not just myself, but the God who I believe created all of the landscapes, experiences, and wildlife that I have come to cherish.

Over the last season, I have traveled all over Japan – Tenkara fishing, hiking, backpacking, and mountain biking. I was struck by how many foreigners never ventured too far from the shrines, geisha girls, onsens, ryokans, and groomed ski slopes. While those things are inherently Japanese, the wild side of Japan is something to behold, and yet it falls by the wayside. In a way, it is as if the untamed beauty of Japan has succumbed to the bright lights, chaos, and short skirts of Tokyo. During the last year, I traveled to Chiba, Yamanashi, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Nagano, Niigata, Gunma, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Tochigi, and Fukushima Prefectures. I could count on one hand how many foreigners I came across in some of the more remote, yet unfathomably beautiful locations I visited there. Once I got off the beaten path in Japan the majority of people I came across were Japanese. And I think that is a great travesty.

Cameron Kline (1)

Consumption

Charles Fox said that, “The roots of fly-fishing encompass a poetic heritage and that there is a power and sacredness in all living things…” I could not agree more and as a fly angler, I believe we all understand that in a way most others do not. Fish are the only animals that humans hunt and then release. Catch and release, while certainly not an exclusive practice of fly anglers, we certainly do make up a majority of the practitioners of this methodology. But why?

I think the answer lies in not just the type of people who are attracted to catching fish on the fly but their unique desire to preserve, yet still enjoy, a landscape. Deep inside we grasp the power, fragility, and sacredness of not only the landscapes we find ourselves in but the animals that call it home. However, in the last several decades we have come to realize that not all of mankind has the same ideals. Organizations like Trout Unlimited, Orvis, and the multitude of non-profits have been created to protect specific rivers, watersheds, and even fish species that are vital to communities and our nation. If we just stepped aside and let the greed machine run unimpeded there would soon be nothing left.

One of the biggest weapons in the conservation arsenal is the money that tourism and the outdoor industry bring not only to communities but our nation. But it is much more than just the money that makes nature important, it is the quality of life that nature brings. And this quality of life is what keeps everything going – even the greed machines. The industries of logging, mining, and energy resource extraction are necessary; I won’t try and argue that they are not. However, when these necessary “evils” destroy our quality of life, it is just plain wrong and short-sighted. Once the resource is gone what are we left with? A huge hole in the ground or an erosion plagued hillside devoid of what once was. Before there were streams, springs, trees, and wildlife. Now there is an ugly scar that will poison our water and air for centuries to come, and for what? This shiny MacBook Air I write on? The sofa I’m sitting on while writing this? The scotch I’m sipping on to lubricate my creative side? All of this is necessary, or at least that is what I’ve convinced myself of, but there should be a balance and an understanding of the true cost of what we consume in the pursuit of happiness.

Cameron Kline (2)

Conservation

In Maryland, the need for conservation sprang primarily from the damage done by farms, pollution, and too much pavement. The first caused erosion due to deforestation to create farmland and then was exacerbated by runoff of fertilizer and pesticides into the ecosystem. The second was a byproduct of unchecked greed, plain and simple. The last caused unprecedented flooding because the ground that had once been able to absorb water was now paved over. This caused more water than the ecosystem could handle too flow into the rivers, which then increased flooding and erosion. Many of the streams I fished in Maryland that were purported to have once been rocky now had sandy bottoms. Because of these, and many other reasons I won’t go into now, these streams were no longer suitable for the native flora and fauna to flourish.

However, these issues have begun to be addressed through the education of the public, the introduction of riparian buffers that helped mitigate runoff, warming water, and pollution, and by a new method of paving that allows water to be absorbed yet still provide a durable surface.

No matter where you go, there is a threat to nature and Japan is no different. For example, rivers that once flowed unimpeded into the ocean are now dammed; illegal dumping and pollution is a big problem; both freshwater and ocean overfishing is becoming (or is already) an issue; and new roads, tunnels, weirs, dams, and bridges are being built at a very high rate – often times causing irreversible damage to natural habitats.

Photo 3

The biggest threat, in my opinion, for the numerous keiryu (mountain streams) and genryū (headwaters) that I have explored and fished are first and foremost the dams followed closely by the cultural fishing ethics. “There are currently 2,800 dams in Japan. Structures over 15 meters tall are considered dams in Japan. If we include smaller structures, it is said there are close to 100,000 dams.” For a country smaller than California (which has 1400 named dams), that is a lot of dams. These dams, or weirs, have partially solved the flooding issues in Japan and because of that are necessary – but not to the extent at which they have been built. You don’t need a weir, let alone a dozen, on a stream that is in an unpopulated area – yet there they are.

There are many problems caused by these dams and weirs. First, they isolate the population of fish. With no way to swim upstream they are cut off, they can go down but they can never come back up. They also increase silt, gravel and rock buildups, which is their purpose because these man-made floodplains slow down flood water thus mitigating their damaging effects. However, the valley widens as it fills up with debris behind the manmade blockade. Once fast-moving streams that used to be shaded by trees, now slowly meander through a wasteland of sand and rock where no substantial foliage can protect them from warming under the direct sunlight.

These structures also reduce a river’s suitable habitat for fish to live and hide from predators in. Consequently, fish seek out smaller portions of a stream to inhabit. This then makes them more susceptible to disease, provides less access to food, and the warming water just exacerbates these issues.

Furthermore, the only way to replenish these streams with fish is to carry them in. This is mostly done by fishing co-ops which then require that you pay for a license to fish. The main difference though is that while in America when you pay for a license you know that the money is not just going to stocking but offsetting the tax burden and conservation efforts by state biologists, this is not the case in Japan. Typically, the money is earmarked for profit first and then stocking second. And since these rivers are routinely stocked the sense of personal responsibility is lessened and the perceived right to consume is heightened.

With that change in perspective, the fishing ethics, by and large, has become a belief that, “All fish should be kept no matter how small they are.” And I don’t need to explain how this mentality can do some serious damage.

Solutions

Having observed all of this, I have been searching for ways that I could affect a real change in Japan. As a foreigner though my options are limited. However, the answer I keep coming back to over and over against tourism. If more foreign visitors ventured into the backcountry, the out-of-the-way areas and the back roads of Japan – the influx of tourism interest and dollars spent would surely get noticed. Suddenly flooding a valley that had been enjoyed for centuries would not just inconvenience the local residents (not to mention the wildlife) but the people who came from Europe, Australia, and America to fish, backpack, camp, and explore it too–then, of course, there is the fact that the influx of foreigner expenditures in these communities would cease. My hope is that the influence of “outsiders” would help to highlight the necessity of the wild places and wild animals of Japan.

Japan is a country of such immense beauty, yet most of those who travel here to visit only see a tiny sliver of what Japan has to offer. “The essential human experience requires a deep connection to our lands and waters. Anything less and we risk the sort of social psychosis characterized by video game addiction and the destruction of our planetary life support systems. In other words, if we lose our link to nature, we risk losing everything else.”

Photo 4

This idea for solving the issues in Japan through “adventure tourism” though isn’t without one glaring problem – there is a significant shortage of English speaking guides here. In nearly every form of outdoor adventure, English-speaking guides are almost non-existent. Those that one can find often advertise their services on websites that look like they were created in the early 90’s using Japanese/English translations that are hard to interpret, maps that are nearly impossible to decipher, and URLs that do not facilitate quick and easy google searches. In other words, traveling to Japan and ‘getting off the grid’ is going to be an adventure – it may even be a bit scary, but the reward is absolutely worth it. Trust me.

Right now is a perfect time to travel to Japan. The experience will be rife with opportunity to regain one’s lost sense of adventure, self-reliance, and self-awareness. It is something that our ancestors had in spades when they settled the world, sailed across the oceans without maps or charts, and climbed mountains that no one had ever summited before – but we have lost touch with this in our present culture. The golden age of human exploration and sense of adventure has been replaced by television, ‘smart’ devices, hashtags, inflated opinions, and laziness. We’ve become so intently focused on pursuing comfort above all things that we have isolated ourselves but yet still claim true balance, perspective, and open-mindedness, which we somehow acquire from social media, entertainment, and the “news.” It is when we are stretched, tested, and tried (three things that are very prevalent when seeking to live in a culture different from our own) that we truly develop character and a sense of self not rooted in ourselves.

History

My introduction to the heritage of “Western” fly fishing (author’s note: Western fly fishing I define as fly fishing with a reel), came from the book “Simple Fly Fishing” by Yvon Chouinard, Craig Mathews, and Mauro Mazzo. The book begins by explaining how Western fly fishing as we have come to know it, was an elitist activity engaged in by a privileged class of landholders.

On the opposite end of this spectrum of privilege and class is the Japanese Tenkara anglers of old who for centuries did not have the luxury to pursue fishing as a pastime or a sport. It was most certainly not an elitist activity practiced by the privileged, but rather was engaged in by peasants, farmers, and artisans as a matter of survival. Time spent fiddling with equipment or tying on a new fly every few minutes could result in their untimely demise. Up until the late 1960s and early 70s, parts of Japan were cut off from the rest of the country during the winter. So much snow fell in the mountains that the roads were unsafe to pass for as much as five to six months out of the year! Because of the harsh Japanese winters, entire communities had to rely on their ingenuity, foraging, farming, preserving, and of course their fishing skills to survive. It was in this environment of bare-bones necessity, yet still maintaining a level of dignity and meekness not commonly found in those circumstances, that Tenkara was born.

Cameron Kline (4)

For much of my life, I had been told that a new iPhone, a new car or clothes, maybe a new pair of seamless waders, or that sleek new graphite fly rod would make me happy. Basically consuming would fulfill me, or at least cloud the sense of purposelessness in it all. Gradually over the years, when the happiness didn’t come, I began to search deeper within myself for answers. The catalyst that brought about true discovery and understanding was the stupendous and beauteous landscape of Japan.

Tenkara translated literally means “from heaven,” but maybe it is not just the image of a fly falling from the heavens into the water to attract a meal that sparked the name – but the fact that it is so counter to our culture that it awakens a side of ourselves that we have subdued for too long. In that discovery, we find a whole new way of seeing and thinking about the world that had been closed off to us before.

Curator for Fallfish Tenkara – Isaac Tait is a Tenkara fanatic currently residing near Tokyo. 

Adapting Tenkara for Smallmouth Bass

Editor’s Note: It was recently asked in a Facebook group if there were people out there fishing for smallmouth bass with their tenkara tackle, and what rods they preferred. Well, in an attempt to answer that question in the future, I’d like to republish this article from the Winter 2015-16 issue of Tenkara Angler by Matt Sment & Mike Lutes. Avid bronzeback chasers, they leave few stones unturned in this excellent essay.

Adapting Tenkara for Smallmouth Bass
by Matt Sment & Mike Lutes

By now, the majority of fixed line anglers are familiar with Tenkara’s origin story. It is a well-known fact that it was developed on high gradient drainages to catch cold water species. These conditions translated easily to some areas of the US, but many regions simply don’t host mountain streams. Luckily, it turns out that Tenkara is exceptionally well suited for other terrains and species too!

In warm water sport fishing, Smallmouth Bass just may be the ultimate match for Tenkara. It’s a fish that is native to North America, and while it requires warmer water, it thrives in structure and current conditions similar to those favored by trout. It is an opportunistic and aggressive feeder. Smallmouth are known to hunt on the move, but often launch explosive strikes from ambush positions near structure. Once hooked, they are ferocious fighters! Once for ounce, there is simply no better fight out there. On a Tenkara rod, every 12-inch fish is a thrill ride, and anything 15 inches and up feels like a clash between titans!

classicwithsmallmouth

We’ve spent a lot of time fishing for Smallmouth with Tenkara systems over the past few years, both on smaller “trout stream” sized creeks and larger rivers. In this article, we’ll discuss our observations on gear and tactics that are producing results for us on smallmouth creeks here in Wisconsin’s Driftless region. You’ll see that we’ve adapted what is already a simple system into something species and terrain specific – which ends up even simpler!

Rods:
We think that the average 11-13 foot, 6:4 or 7:3 action rod offered by most American companies is just about perfect for 10-15 inch smallies on a typical creek. Softer tipped Japanese rods with highly refined actions are great for level lines and light fly patterns, but they are poorly suited for throwing the larger payloads we’ve come to prefer. Additionally, a rod with some “backbone” to it comes in handy when you need to dig in your heels against a big run. It’s true that flexibility protects the rod, but without some stiffness to rely on, it’s going to be really difficult to turn that crazy ‘bronzeback when it goes ballistic downstream.

While we have spent time fishing smallmouth streams with “big fish” rods, we found them to be an overmatch for the size of the fish we were catching. One might consider making the leap into “bigger fish” rods if they are regularly targeting 16+ inch Bass or fishing in heavier current and larger/deeper water, but for creeks and streams, we recommend you stick with “regular” rods to maximize the excitement!

Kyle
Fishing a “regular” Tenkara rod will make average fish more exciting, and in most cases will stand up to larger Bass too!

Line and Tippet:
There are two major factors that drive our preferences for line and tippet. First, Smallmouth Bass are not very leader shy. We aren’t saying that they are “easy”… but they are nowhere near as spooky as trout. Second, we are typically casting larger and heavier fly patterns on our Tenkara rods than we do when we fish for trout. These two factors combined mean that we are less concerned about line signature, and need some extra line mass to help cast larger flies.

We both prefer light-weight floating lines for Smallmouth Bass fishing. In our opinion, the requirement for throwing larger flies makes level line a poor choice. Furled line would be better suited for the task, but its need for floatant to keep it from sinking is something we are not fond of. The light-weight floating line offers the mass we need to throw bigger patterns and lacks the complications that come with furled lines.

Our usual rigging is about 12-16 of line, depending on the size of the water we are fishing. Fishing a line length that is longer than the rod does increase the difficulty in keeping line off the water, but as we’ve discussed, that is not a big issue in bass fishing.

As far as tippet goes… we save it for the trout! This where it pays to know the water and species you are fishing. Smallmouth simply are not spooky enough to warrant its use, and in small and medium streams, the 10-15 inch bass you are targeting with the average Tenkara rod aren’t putting the rod in threat, so the “safety” concept is largely unnecessary. Instead, we use 4-6lb test monofilament line. Our favorite choice is “the cheapest that is currently on sale”. Normally, we rig up with 6-8 feet of mono, tied directly to the end of the floating line.

On average, we are fishing 30-36 foot systems and making casts in the 25-35 foot range. We tend to use systems on the shorter side when fishing solo because that makes landing the fish a bit easier. When you’ve got a buddy nearby that can assist with the landing, don’t be afraid to stretch out to longer lengths if you want to experiment!

dutchcreeksmallie.jpg

Fly Choice and Tactics:
Nymphs will work sometimes. So will dries. And poppers. But for consistent action, we recommend you pick a streamer of some sort. Why’s that? Because we’ve both found that we can make streamers produce under the widest variety of circumstances. We believe that this is because general purpose streamer patterns feature a decent amount of movement and a bold profile.

Mike caught nearly all of his smallmouth this year on a size 6 or 8 white cone headed streamer with a strip of rabbit fur.This remarkably effective fly can be twitched and retrieved at varying speeds or simply dead drifted. You can allow it to sink before the retrieve to get it deep or strip it fast across the surface to elicit top-water strikes. The rabbit fur has a killer fluttering action that the bass just love!

Mike tends to use the weighted fly to work the horizontal axis, targeting deeper holes with thorough drifts. He’ll move through each level of the water column with a combination of dead drifts, twitching retrieves, and erratic “altitude change” retrieves where the fly will climb and dive rapidly. He prefers to fish upstream or up and across and work the drift back towards him.

Matt spent most of the year fishing for bass with an unweighted Pass Lake in size 6. Many of the strikes took place within seconds of the fly landing, so there wasn’t much time for technique!

passlake

The standard pattern calls for white wings, but we also tested some with chartreuse wings. Both proved equally irresistible. Being unweighted, you have to use current and time to sink it, but the vast majority of the strikes it drew this year were nearly instant-upon-arrival topwater hits or occurred in the top 12 inches of the water column as the fly was being stripped, swung, or otherwise actioned through current.

Matt likes to work wider vertical areas (down and across swing on a long riffle), or short deliberate drifts near structure (up and to the left of that rock, with a 2-3 foot drift past as it sinks). He’ll often do 2-3 passes over a target area and then move on. The first pass will be a dead drift, the second some kind of twitchy motion, and the third will be an aggressive strip. If a certain technique besides the dead drift seems to be producing more often than others, he’ll start off with that instead.

One big difference between trout and smallmouth, is that bass are not put off by a splashy presentation. On the contrary, they can be quite attracted to noisy landings! Tenkara rods make it easy to add some “spice” to your presentation, simply by tapping your index finger against the cork grip as you land the fly and adding a small thrashing action by means of quick tip shake. After all, how many times have you had a small bluegill on the hook and watched bass come rocketing up out of the depths to come investigate? You can even incorporate the “tapping” component into your retrieves and drifts. I’ve had days where the fish wouldn’t move an inch, but add some tapping and they’d hit the exact same fly and presentation they’d ignored a moment before!

We both agree that you are best off getting in the water to fish. Assuming that there is no safety risk in wading, get your feet wet and use the lower profile to your advantage. Your presence in the water will not hinder your chances of catching fish at this range, and you’ll most likely have the ability to cast to both sides of the stream from a central position. You can move from bank to bank as needed.

Smallmouth bass run and fight hard! Here are a few tips that have worked to help us bring them to hand:

Be aware of your position in the stream, nearby current, depth, etc. Do what you can to steer them away from entanglements and bunkers early in the fight.

Move your feet. If can move safely, a few steps forward or to the side can make a huge difference in that moment when you and the fish are balanced on a fine edge and struggling for control of the rod. Stay mobile!

Another trick to change the dynamic when the fish is running straight away from you is to take a quick, small step forward and then turn your whole body to the side. Turning your whole body can put the bend back into the rod and get you back into control of the fish quickly. This can be done in place if you are in a position where you cannot safely move.

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Final Thoughts
We were discussing this article over beers (Mike, a Belgian Abbey ale, Matt a Sprecher’s root beer) and having a difficult time articulating just what it is we enjoy about bass fishing so much. During the discussion, Mike mentioned brought up that when he fishes after a night shift, he usually chooses to fish for smallmouth bass as he generally finds it so relaxing. Matt related that he had been out fishing for Smallmouth this summer with a friend that they were having so much fun they were laughing like kids. And that is when it crystallized for us…

As much as we enjoy trout fishing, there is always a certain pressure that goes along with it. Yes, it can be very relaxing, but if you are not careful, you can also be tense while trout fishing. While we really enjoy the constant analysis and engagement that is part of a day on a trout stream, that level of mental activity can be fatiguing. Trout fishing is appealing in part for its endless complexity. Stream fishing for bass is enjoyable because of its relative simplicity. Lastly, I don’t think we can underestimate the “fishing like you did when you were 10 years old factor”. I suspect many of us fish because it reminds us of carefree childhood days spent on the water. We have found stream fishing for smallmouth gets us closer to that ideal.

A fierce native species that is uncomplicated to catch and fights like a demon, paired with a simple system of tools that is uncomplicated to fish and is easily adapted to local conditions. It’s a perfect match!

Matt & Mike are the proprietors of Badger Tenkara, please visit their site for a fine selection of tenkara rods, lines, accessories, and advice!

Three Tips for Better [Fish] Photographs

Editor’s Note: Who doesn’t want to take better fish photos? “Picture or it didn’t happen!”… ever hear that before? But if you’re guilty like me of taking too many of the standard “fish in hand” photos, Jason Sparks wrote this wonderful tips and tricks post for the Winter 2015-16 issue of Tenkara Angler. Follow it closely, and you could become an Instagram rock star in no time… 

Three Tips for Better [Fish] Photographs
By Jason Sparks

There has never been an easier time in history than now for learning to capture better images of the things in life you want to remember. The photographs almost take themselves these days with auto-focus, auto-shutter, auto-aperture and other “auto-fantastical” settings. So why is it that we still see people disappointed by their photographs? Here are a few pointers that should lead you in the right direction for better images of that fish you worked so hard to catch… then release.

We don’t deal with film, chemicals or processing times anymore. We no longer need camera bodies and multiple lenses weighing in at eleven pounds and costing a few thousand dollars. We have instant capture, instant review and instant satisfaction capabilities at our finger tips these days. High definition digital cameras with a highly capable lens can go from taking amazing macro shots to offering some serious telephoto zoom on distances. The modern digital cameras ranging from $100 up to $300 are more than capable for most peoples everyday photography and use on social media. Let’s not forget about the digital devices welded to our palms either. These mini computers are much more than a replacement for old school telephones, they carry entire music collections, a lifelong Rolodex of contacts and our daily planners. These “phones” have also become the primary camera for many people.

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It has been several years since I carried my camera bag around with me when I head out to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a family vacation or even a birthday party. Since I am not making fine art prints for sale anymore, I use my hand-sized smart phone for 99% of my photography. The last two generations of phones on the market have seen significant technology increases in the lens they have installed. The 1.3-megapixel lens that we had for nearly a decade has been blown out of the water with amazing replacements like 12MP and 16MP lens of current models. The trick for me was to get good enough with my “phone” that I felt comfortable that I was not giving up quality versus the DSLR rig now sitting in a closet. Where did I start and what did I learn?

I spent the last thirty years working on and developing the techniques that Mr. Baldwin preached in my Photo 101 class. I have tried and tested every technique that has ever interested me and have focused on the final few that have become “my style”. This is going to be an attempt to nutshell all of that into a few nuggets that you can digest. You need to be most aware of lighting, composition and focal point because the camera’s “auto-fantastic” features will hold your hand through much of the rest of it. Truth be told, if you don’t handle your three basic parts then you will find yourself in salvage mode trying to get something from nothing. No problem here, I’m sure that we can make a difference by concentrating on these areas.

Lighting
Be very aware of your cameras ability to take photos in harsh and low light situations. Many times when we are out fishing the sun is wicked bright creating significant contrast with the shadows. That is hard for the sensor to compute and you will end up with “washed out” areas that are too bright and hold very little detail. Conversely, low light situations in the shadows or at dusk can create grainy images that lose all the detail and color at the other end of the spectrum.

TIP: Be aware of where your body/arm shadow is when you are holding the fish. Choose to position the fish either completely in the sun or in the shade. Don’t straddle the line.

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Composition
We’ve all seen pics where the camera is too far away from the angler showing us what is effectively a landscape instead of the catch. Haven’t we also seen those trophy shots where the fish is held at arms length with the head thrust into the lens? It makes for pictures of the smallest anglers ever. Also, be cognizant of what is happening in the background. Is it something you want to include for some nice value added depth or do you want to exclude it? How about adding some creativity and art to your fish. Do something different.

TIP: Change up the angle in which you take the photograph. Consider taking a few shots of portions of the fish like only the head, tail or dorsal area. Include the felled tree in the background that you pulled him from under.

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Focal Point
All of us are using our digital cameras on auto-focus because it is just so easy. Do you know how to override where it is focusing? By default, the settings have it focusing in the center of the frame. Once you start becoming aware of the lighting and framing your shots the focus area may not be right in the middle anymore. Most photographs of fish have a pinpoint focus on the eyeball of the fish. So how do you achieve this?

You could work on changing the camera settings, but the easiest way on a “point & shoot” camera is to aim the camera at exactly where you want the focal point to be. Now press half way down on the shutter release to set the focus. Then while holding the button half depressed, reframe the image to how you want the composition to be. Then finish depressing the shutter release. Now you can have the focus in the upper left corner or the lower middle of the frame by doing this procedure.

TIP: On your smart phone, use a free fingertip to touch the screen where you want the focal point to be. The camera will reset the focus to that point. Wait for the small subject/focus box to turn green, now shoot your photograph.

BONUS: Look into using some photo enhancing Apps like BeFunky, Photoshop Express or Instagram. These are typically free or low cost and offer a wide range of advanced features that can help you show off your stuff. The combination of filters, twists, and tweaks that you can impart onto the image can really make it stand out when you are showing off your catch with friends via email or social media.

There is no need for humdrum images from you anymore. Take control of your device and step up your game. You will be surprised at how quickly you can start producing images at a whole new level. Take a lot of pictures. Be aware of the areas we just went over. Practice these things until they become second nature. I’m sure with a little practice you too will develop and perfect your style.

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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.

Tenkara Angler Magazine: Winter 2015-16

Today I’m pleased to announce the second issue of Tenkara Angler magazine has hit the virtual newsstands!

Tenkara Angler Winter 2015-16

What’s new in the Winter 2015-16 issue? Actually quite a few things, the most noticeable being the fact that instead of simply assembling a bunch of old Troutrageous! blog posts into a magazine format, I was able to recruit a wide cross-section of the tenkara community to contribute some truly outstanding content. Over 110 pages of photos, essays, articles, and technique tips to be exact!

You’ll likely recognize names such as Jason Sparks, Isaac Tait, ERiK Ostrander, Robert Worthing, Chris Zimmer, Brian Schiele, Brandon Moon, Matt Sment, & Anthony Naples, just to name a few.

The editing was a long and frustrating process (my computer died mid-stream), but now that it’s complete I think it was well worth it, and typos be damned, I hope you do too.

The Winter 2015-16 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine can be found for free online consumption via Issuu HERE, or for physical purchase HERE.

I’ll be the first to admit the “Premium” paper copy is a bit expensive, however that’s the way it goes in this print on demand format. It’s priced where I make no money on the sales, as this endeavor is more for fun than profit. Plus, it would look damn nice on your coffee table or fly tying bench, am I right?