Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Long Road Back

I first started fishing with my dad and grandfather. This was back in the late 50's early 60's.

The only fishing that held my grandfather's interested was using cane poles to fish for bullheads after dark. It was always an adventure to get slathered up with bug dope (I still can smell the 6-12 brand repellant) getting ready to venture out in the dark armed only with a flashlight.

My dad was always an avid catch and fillet fisherman. He grew up during the depression and his family pretty much survived on the fish they caught. My dad's only interest was catching panfish (bluegills and perch (he used to also fish for crappie but lost interest in them for some reason)). My dad's weapon of choice was also a cane pole, although he did sometimes use an ancient spinning rod to fish vertically "off the bottom".

For some reason, I always knew I'd like fly fishing. Since neither my dad or grandfather knew the first thing about it, I was on my own. I started at about age nine or ten. My gear consisted of a branch off of a weeping willow, about 5 or 6 feet of 8 lb mono (the only fishing line my dad used), and a fly made out of a piece of kitchen sponge and a rubber band.

I spent countless hours fishing a small, shallow channel for "mud bass" (in retrospect I think they were some green sunfish hybrid). It was simple, but held the attention of even a 10 year old for at least two or three years.

In a surprise move by my parents, they bought me a real fly rod and reel when I was twelve years old. I'm pretty sure it was about a 7 or 8 weight, I never did know (it still had the old letter designation which I never understood). I do know I used a 5 weight line on it. Casting was always an adventure, but that's what I used for the next several years as a teenager.

Once out of college, my interest in fly fishing grew and I know I've invested multiple thousands of dollars on some very nice fly fishing equipment. Much of the quality stuff has turned out to be a fairly decent/good investment. I've spent several tens of thousands of hours using the equipment, and have caught (and mostly released) tens of thousands of fish.

About ten years ago, after having fished extensively, I developed a system where I only used one fly pattern for about 85% of my time spent trout fishing. I did vary size and color, but it was nice to have confidence in a simple generic fly that I knew would catch fish in a wide variety of situations. Part of the system was I realized that fishing a relatively short line was a very effective way to have precise control of the fly which was a very effective way to catch fish.

Two seasons ago, I saw my first reference to something called Tenkara. It must have been in a fishing forum someplace. I started to do a few google searches, and as soon as I started reading about it, I knew I was going to enjoy doing it. The references I found talked about using simple patterns on a fixed line, which was very akin to the way I was already fishing.

What also attracted me was the reference to the use of furled lines, since I was already actively furling (and selling) leaders. If that weren't enough, the history of Tenkara supposed derived from the Japanese Samurai warriors who used Tenkara as a training method for swordsmanship. My wife and I have both practiced martial arts for the past 15 years, including karate and Iaidio. Iaido is the art of drawing and cutting with the Japanese sword.

Again I started out with less than optimal equipment, a $12 fiberglass crappie pole bought at Walmart. It actually didn't cast all that bad, and it caught fish. I found myself once again, back in time, a close equivalent to fishing for "mud bass" with a willow branch. It's kept me fascinated for the past two seasons, the more I fish with it, the more I like it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Magnum Tenkara Furled Lines

There are some basic limitations regarding the length that a furled Tenkara line can be produced. One limitation is just having the necessary room to lay up the line and then furl it. The other limitation is that at some point, there is too much resistance and it becomes difficult to achieve an even and consistent twist throughout the entire length of the Tenkara line.

One option is to furl a multi-piece line which can be connected via loop to loop connection. This system actually provides some advantages regarding having the flexibility to easy rig up a longer or shorter line.

Here is a set up I have been using for warm water, still water fishing conditions.

Top left is a 10.5' level furled line that basically serves as a Tenkara line extension. Bottom right is a 10.5' furled weight forward tapered line, top right is a 10'-12' foot tapered single strand mono leader. The furled level extension and the furled weight forward tapered line are connected with a loop to loop connection

This gives me a total line length of about 33', couple with the reach supplied by the rod, I can fish out to approximately 38'.

Personally speaking, when I first started to fish this set up I was able to reach out over 35', but in order to do so, I needed to really concentrate on my Tenkara casting technique. As I fine tuned the leader/tippet, as well as limit the fly size, casting has become much more routine and predictable. As with most things, it just may be a matter of practice makes perfect (or at least close to it).

Of course, I still find it a much more pleasurable/enjoyable experience fishing a more normal sub 20' Tenkara set up. When fishing a normal set up, casting happens almost sub consciously. I basically look, see a spot that I want to fish, and bam, the fly shows up. My total concentration is on the water. When casting the "magnum" set up, I really need to focus more on the physical act of casting.

I use the "magnum" line when fishing still water ponds/lakes, primarily from shore. Because of the way I fish, it really offers no advantages when I fish moving waters. When fishing rivers and streams, a conventional length line is what I use.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Chicago (Leech) Fly

This fly was originally popularized by Carl Richards (the co author of Selective Trout / Fly Fishing Strategy). Carl and his friend/fishing partner, John Krause were guiding a client on a fishing trip along the Muskegon River (located in the lower peninsula of Michigan). The client happened to be from Chicago, and was the fisher who originally showed Carl and John the fly.

As the story goes, neither Carl or John were overly impressed with the way the fly looked, but as faith would have it, they decided to give it a try and instantly became a believers in the fish catching ability of this simple fly. Carl went on to talk about the fly during various presentations, and was said to say the Chicago leech was "The best wet fly I’ve ever found!".

John also tied flies professionally, and helped to popularize the fly by tying and selling the fly at Parsley's, a major sporting goods retailer located on the Muskegon River in Newaygo.

In honor of the Windy City client who first showed Carl and John the fly, it came to be referred to as the Chicago Fly, also known as the Chicago Leech.

It just about impossible to fish this fly in a way that won't catch fish. It can be fished dead drift (with or without an indicator), swung like a wet fly, or stripped like a streamer. Depending on how you squint, the fly can look like a stone fly/dobson fly nymph, small crayfish, leech, or a small minnow.

The original fly was tied in black, but folks have had sucess using other colors as well. The one and only one requirement, it must be tied using 100% mohair yarn. I'm not sure what it is about mohair, but it does make a difference on this fly. I personally think the fly works best when tied very sparse. Other anglers think it looks better with a fuller profile, and both versions seem to catch more than their fair share of fish. I tie the fly in a size 10 or 12, but again larger and smaller versions have been known to work well.

I think it is very much in the spirit of Tenkara. A generic, easy to tie fly that can be fished using a variety of methods.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Replace a Tenkara Lilian Rod Tip

Lilian is the name of the hollow braided string which is attached to the end of a Tenkara rod. The lilian is used to connect to the Tenkara fly line to the Tenkara rod.

The lilian is hollow, and is designed to slip over the end of the Tenkara rod tip.

Apply a thin layer of epoxy to the tip area of the Tenkara rod. The epoxy will serve both as an adhesive as well as a lubricant to aid in slipping the hollow lilian over the rod tip. I have found that using a twisting motion helps to seat the lilian over the Tenkara rod tip.

All that is left to do is to clean up any excess epoxy which was push out when seating the lilian,
and of coure, be sure to let the epoxy thoroughly cure before using the Tenkara rod.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tenkara in the Company of Larger Fish

Cue the Jaws movie theme music.

Landing larger fish may present a challenge, but I personally think the challenge is what makes fishing fun. The one thing I like about Tenkara, I think it will make you a better fisher person. This is particularly true in the process of trying to control (and hopefully land) larger fish. The challenge is certainly there, but I think in most cases, all the odds aren't on the side of the fish.

There are alot of real nice conventional fly reels on the market today, and that has become a mixed blessing. It allows the conventional fly angler let the disk drag reel do the work in subduing larger fish. The angler strikes the "orvis pose" (rod high over head) and hangs on. When the fish runs, the reel supplies resistance (and about a mile of line), when the fish gets tired, the angler derricks in the prize.

The one thing to remember when fighting fish, the fish always follows his/her head. The fish can only go where it's head is pointing. A fish's head does not move up and down, so when you apply overhead pressure, it needs to be sufficient to lift the fish out of the water column, if not, it doesn't do much good. The fish feels pressure and responds by heading in the opposite direction. That's exactly what you don't want to happen in Tenkara. (It isn't all that great with conventional fly gear either, but that's where our old friend, Mr Fly reel comes in with several hundred yards of line and a disk drag that can slow down a Buick Park Avenue.)

A fish's head is made to move side to side. When a fish's head is side loaded, it has one of two choices, either follow the direction it's head is being pulled, or expend alot of energy trying to pull it's head in the opposite direction. Of course, things can get even more complicated for poor old Mr./Mrs. fish when that direction of pull suddenly changes from one side to the other. Once the fish starts getting turned, he/she must now also fight any current, which will tend to try to further spin the fish. (When pulling straight up and back on the fish, it takes off straight down steam, so the current is working in the fishes favor).

Tenkara equipment excels at providing side pressure to the fish, and with the mere flip of the angler's wrist, suddenly that point of pressure moves 24' in the opposite direction from where it was just a second ago. Bottom line, in my opinion, Tenkara equipment can be a very effective fish fighting tool.

Of course, everything sounds easy in principle, and things don't always go exactly as planned. But that's what makes it fun, and trying different things is what makes one a versatile angler.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My home river

The Muskegon River, located in the western part of the lower peninsula of Michigan is my home river. I have been fishing the Muskegon River extensively for the past 25 years.

While many folks consider tenkara a technique best suited for small streams and rivers, I find tenkara fishes very well on larger rivers, like the Muskegon, as well.