Friday, December 23, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Carve a rod cap

Next time you find yourself sitting around the campfire with your trusty pocket knife handy, grab a branch and make yourself a spare (or replacement) rod cap.

As with all things tenkara, take it slow and easy, use a gentle hand.

Make sure you don't try to force a peg that is too big into a hole that is too small. You could possibly damage you rod. You also need to be sure not to try to force the cap too deep into the rod, remember there are rod sections down there. If you have your current plug handy, you can use it as a template regarding length and diameter.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Got a dandy early Xmas gift from a virtual fishing buddy of mine. Alan graciously sent me a copy of his album, The Last Cast. Anyone who enjoys fishing or the outdoors will enjoy Alan's tunes.

I personally think this is the perfect music to listen to while tying flies. Even if it doesn't improve the look of your flies (but it very well might), it will improve your mood. You can listen to some of Alan's tunes on his website -

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fly Fishing Complexity

I recently read a thread in a fly fishing forum asking if fly fishing is becoming too difficult for beginners to get started.

I’ve often thought how lucky I was to have started fly fishing 50 years ago. If I was just getting started today, I don’t think I would take up the sport. I started long before Al Gore thought up the internet. I literally started fly fishing as a youngster using a willow branch, piece of mono, and a “fly” consisting of a piece of sponge with rubber band legs, tied onto a hook with some sewing thread. I didn’t personally know anyone else who fly fished to show me the ropes. I did have access to a small canal that held stunted “sunfish” that were always willing to attack anything that came their way. I spent countless hours over at least a few years joyfully occupied. It wasn’t until a couple years later that my parents bought me my first fly rod and fly reel. They didn’t know anything about tackle, and based their decision solely on buying a rod and reel that were cheap. It didn’t really matter to me, I used that rod and reel for the next 6 or 7 years, caught tons of bluegills.

I took a few years off from fly fishing my last few years of high school, and while in college. Once I started working, I started fly fly fishing again, an my fly fishing arsenal grew at an exponential rate. I’m sure I spent more than the total economy of some small third world countries. Pouring over fishing catalogs and buying stuff was almost as much fun as fishing.

If I was in the position of just getting started today, I know I would first turn to the internet and spend time reading the volumes of information contained “on line”. I sometimes wonder if too much information might not be a bigger curse than not enough information. I think I’d be hard pressed not to leave the research stage under the impression that it would take a major investment of at least multiple hundreds of dollars to buy a suitable rod and reel. After that comes accessories and gadgets, and then the task of suitable fly “selection”.

I actually can personally relate to being a newbie today. As a kid, I also loved shooting a bow and arrow. I had a $35 Fred Bear recurved bow, a suitable .50 bow string, and a half dozen arrows I bought at the local hardware store for $3.00 (I did also use a small flat piece of leather for finger protection). I’ve thought about taking up archery again, but as with fly fishing, most of mainstream archery has gotten a lot more technical and complex than when I was a kid. Having started to do a bit of research regarding how to get back into archery, the complexity/cost of archery was overwhelming to me, I decided to pass.

I’m not the least bit critical of the complexity in terms of equipment and/or advice available. It is all well intentioned and due to the passion that folks feel about their hobbies. That provides a lot of folks with a lot of enjoyment, but it does create a dilemma for the new person who is interested in sticking their toe into the water to see if they too may come to share the same passion and enthusiasm.

I’ve had a great time over a period of 30 years amassing fly fishing related equipment, my home and cottage is better stocked than most of the few remaining fly shops that are around my local area. I have pretty much stopped buying much of anything for the past 7 or 8 years. I use to tell myself that whatever I didn’t use would be passed down to my son. It’s pretty evident to me that my son has many interests of his own, which is good. I don’t foresee him taking up fly fishing anytime soon, so I find myself with more than enough stuff to last until long past the time my fishing days are over.

Maybe as a result of that realization, I found myself, looking to simplify my fishing. I found myself usually fishing with the same rod, and using a small handful of the same flies. A few years ago, I stumbled across a couple of forum entries by a guy named Chris Stewart, aka Tenkara Bum. I knew I wanted to give this a try. The first time out, using a kludged up outfit, I knew the method held a strong appeal to me. It very much reminded me of my earliest days, fishing with a willow branch

I don’t know if there is any conclusion to be drawn. At the risk of adding one more useless bit of information to the cosmos, I find it interesting, from my personal observations, the folks who seem to really get bitten by this bug often times fall into one of two “extremes” . One group consists of long time fly fishers, who are looking for a simpler, less complex way to enjoy fishing - sort of getting back to their roots. The other “enthusiasts” are brand new beginners, many have said they had previously looked into fly fishing, but had become overwhelmed. It’s interesting to see how often the folks I talk to fall into one of the two extremes.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fly Selection

One of my virtual fishing pals recently asked me what kind of flies I liked to fish.

I preface this by saying I am in a very small minority with regards to my opinion on this, so please take it with a grain of salt. Since I fish mostly for trout in moving waters, that has a pretty hefty influence on my opinions.

Popular consensus says, tie on a fly, strive for a drag free drift, if no results in a while, tie on a different fly and repeat. Hence the need for fly fishing vests which have lots of pockets with lots of fly boxes loaded with thousands of different fly patterns. The idea being to keep changing until you find the one that happens to work on that given day.

I personally rarely change flies, what I do change very frequently, often times on the same cast, is how I "animate" or move the fly I am using. I probably fish dead drift slightly less than 25% of the time, the other times I'm skating, swinging, twitching, dappling or maybe just pulsating the fly.

Perhaps that works for me based on where I fish, my home river is predominately populated with caddis fly species. I have never seen a caddis fly sit still on the water, unless it was just plain dead. I do admit that when there is a mayfly hatch going on, I do tend to tone down my presentation intensity.

Above and beyond the kinds of flies on the water, it seems to me that when a fly is dead drifted, one relies entirely on the outline of the fly to distinguish it from a stick, weed or cigarette butt that happens to be floating along. However when you add movement, I think that at least capture's the fishes attention. Weeds and sticks don't twitch around. One would think the right kind of movement would be something the fish key in on to indicate that something is alive, therefore a candidate for a light snack. As I think about it, we may be just the opposite. I never want to see any kind of movement on my dinner plate.

So at least when I'm fishing moving waters, I want a very generic looking fly, that I can fish in a variety of presentations, hopefully giving the fish just enough of a look to convince it that he better grab it while he has a chance. I like a fly that mostly floats, something I can twitch or skate. I do like to be able to give it a tug, so it breaks the surface tension, allowing me to swing the fly just below the surface.

I've been fishing this way for about the past 20 years, and my preference for fly of choice has slightly evolved. I've always pretty much settle on something in about a size 14, probably more or less based on the Goldilocks theory - something not too big, not too small, but just right. I do tend to maybe switch to a smaller fly as the season progresses, but a #16 is about as small as my old eyes can handle.

The first fly pattern I used to fish this way was something called a devil bug. It's an old Michigan based patterned, some deer hair lashed fore and aft over a thread or chenille body. It's trimmed close at the front to form a head. Then for a while I was fishing a Goofus Bug/Humpy, very simular, but with wings. I liked it, but I never got very good at tying a really nice looking one.

Next I went to a elk hair caddis. The palmer hackle helped when skating the fly. Somewhere along the way, I think while fishing an elk hair that had been dehaired after being mauled by a couple dozen trout, I wondered if it even needed a wing.

That's pretty much where I'm at now, a simple body with a feather palmered it's length. Picture a hairless elk hair caddis if you will.

To be honest, that was the appeal to me of tenkara, the long rod provides a level of control allowing one to provide fairly precise manipulation of one's fly. It didn't hurt to hear that many of the long time practitioners in Japan fished a single favorite simple pattern. Great minds think alike, right?

Well, that's my two cents worth.

What do y'all think?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I'd be interested to hear what y'all use to carry your stuff. The chest pack I use is about 10"x10". To be truthful, it's larger than need be. As much as out of force of old habits, I still carry around 4 small fly boxes. I can't remember the last time I opened three of them. I pretty much have all my go to flies in one box and that's the only one that gets used. I also carry a pair of rarely used hemostats, a bottle of floatant, and a spool or two of tippet.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Don't leave home without it

Wish I had been smart enough to think this up. I stole the idea from a fishing buddy. Good way to make sure you always have a grip pad handy. Of course it's best not to apply too much pressure when opening your rod, your rod should close without the need for too much pressure. However if you need to get a better grip, it's nice to have a pad handy -

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I learned an important lesson at a young age that I must have temporarily forgotten. When asked at a birthday party if one wanted cake or ice cream, the right answer is always – BOTH!

I think the same concept may have helped me to at least partially resolve a fishing related dilemma I’ve been tussling with for a while. I like to fish poppers for bluegills and bass in my local subdivision pond. Since I am shore bound, I’d like to be able to extend my range a bit, even though poppers tend to be a bit wind resistant when it comes to casting. So I’ve been in search of an optimal line to meet my desires.

I like the way normal length furled lines cast and fish. They have the mass to help deliver the bulkiness of the popper. Problem is, they become tedious to both furl and fish as the length of the line increases. The nice thing about level (fluorocarbon) lines, it’s easy to cut off longer lengths to increase range, but they don’t seem to have the mass to consistently cast bulky poppers.

So what is a poor boy to do? For some reason, I woke up the other day thinking about birthday cake and ice cream, and I realized, the fishing gods were talking to me. Why not try a combo line? Even though it was still early in the morning, I got busy tying up a combination line that started out with about a 7’ furled line, with a 12’ length of fluorocarbon. I added a 5-6’ leader/tippet, and was ready to go.

Soon as the sun started to come up, I was off to the pond to give it a whirl. After only a few days of field testing, I do like the way the combo line casts and fishes. I think in a lot of respects, I end up with the best of both worlds. Sort of like having your cake, and ice cream too.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Demand for hackle

Looks like the demand for hackle is going up -

Dear Whiting Farms Customer,

Whiting Farms is experiencing an unprecedented onslaught of orders for our EuroHackle saddles. This is not just from the world, but largely from the fly fishing pro shops that have new customers coming to them to buy our dry fly saddles for use in various modes; hair weaves, ear rings, jewelry and crafts. This new traffic and business is welcome by the pro shops but we are faced with a real dilemma: orders vastly exceed supply! Understandably the shops that have put in orders to Whiting Farms, of any quantity, and are very keen to get them filled. But the number of saddles being ordered simply doesn’t exist. We wish we had as many saddles as everyone wanted. The crop of EuroHackle roosters to be harvested for 2011 is fixed and no changes can be made. Increases in production of this product line have and are being made, but the increasing numbers will be gradual and won’t really be seen until 2012! Therefore we have been intensely pondering how we can most equitably allocate what saddles we do have coming to harvest in 2011.

The only fair way, I feel, is to divide and conquer. By this I mean we are going to disassemble our EuroHackle saddles and repackage them in a new product line called the “Whiting Pack”. Sixteen long feathers of a single color will be affixed on our branded board, very much like our Whiting 100 Packs, but not sized as to hook size. The suggested retail price will be $20.00 [...] Most of the customers wanting these feathers are wanting to experiment and so the smaller quantities will be welcome and more appropriate. The lower price point will encourage them to possibly buy a range of colors or several packs. A full or even half EuroHackle saddle is usually too many feathers of only one color for any hobbyist anyway.

In order to do this more fair allocation of our limited EuroHackle saddles we will have to cease selling full or half saddles as a product line. We are making an extra effort to keep our flagship Whiting dry fly saddles, and the new High and Dry saddles, in good stock to supply all the fly tier’s needs.

We appreciate your understanding of these needed changes.

Sincerely, Tom Whiting

Friday, March 11, 2011


Definition of MANIPULATE

transitive verb

1: to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner

2a : to manage or utilize skillfully

b : to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage

I confess - I am manipulative. Furthermore, I confess that I hope to manipulate you to become manipulative as well.

I first became manipulative about 30 years ago. I had already been fly fishing for bass and panfish on ponds and lakes for the previous 15 years. I had read every book I could get my hands on regarding fishing for trout in rivers and streams. Just about everything I had read told me if I wanted to catch trout, it was imperative that I fish my dry fly with a dead drift.

Having just bought some property on the Muskegon River, located in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, I finally had my chance to put my book knowledge to serious use. I fished with friends the first several times I scouted and fished my new home river. In each case, I was a more skilled and “knowledgeable” angler than my companions. In every case, my companions managed to hook at least a few fish, and I was continually skunked. What was going on?

I was persistent, and finally managed to luck into a few fish every now and then. Often times the fish were caught while I was trying to wade up stream, with my line dangling in the water below me. Nothing could be farther from a dead drift presentation. I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid. Soon I started to dangle my line below me and give it a few twitches. When that worked, I started to sometimes swing my fly, and then skate it.

I started to experiment, and found that if I fished a rather generic looking fly, given the right presentation, it caught fish. If truth be told, every now and then I’d fish a cast out dead drift, and did catch a few fish using that presentation. As I started to fish a wider repertoire of retrieves, I found I had best luck fishing a relatively short line. What I lacked in range, I made up with much better control. That’s the way I fished for roughly 30 years. As I got my system and tactics down, I caught a lot of fish - far more than my fair share. If I didn’t always fish catch and release, I may have even felt a bit guilty about catching more than my fair share.

Then, by pure luck, I happen upon the idea of fishing a fixed-length-line system using a long, very light rod. I started using a $15 fiberglass rod I bought at Walmart, but it was very evident to me – this suited the way I fished, and allowed me to fish much more precisely and efficiently. I instantly found my catch rate increasing, and seemed to be having a lot more fun. There is something above and beyond catching more fish that makes it more fun and satisfying for me. Maybe it’s the simplicity; maybe it just seems more intimate; maybe it’s the precision it allows.. I have yet to totally figure it totally out yet, but it has made me even more manipulative.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

PVC Rod Cases Revisited

For the better part of the last 30 years, I’ve been using standard 1 ½” PVC pipe to construct rod cases. PVC has many advantages, it readily available, cheap, easy to work and very strong. The 1 ½” diameter was just the right size for a two piece fly rod. The primary disadvantage, it’s heavy.

Since I had some shorter pieces of standard PVC pipe lying around, I used it to make cases for some of my Tenkara rods as well. Other than the weight, it worked fine.

Since I had a need to make a number of cases, I had to purchase some more PVC. As I thought about it, Tenkara rods do a pretty good job of protecting their tips when the rods are collapsed. Plus the collapsed rods we short, so they were less likely to get slammed in a car door or meet some other disastrous fate. They were also one piece and had no guides, so I wondered if they may fit into a narrower diameter pipe.

Once at the big box store, I took a look at 1 ¼” PVC. I notice it came not only in the standard wall thickness, but also a thin wall version. I ended up buying the thin wall, and it worked great, still providing protection, but at a reduced weight.

From the picture, you can see the difference in wall thickness between the 1 ½” and 1 ¼” PVC.

Once I built a few cases, I weighed a 1 ½” case and a 1 ¼” case

The 1 ½” case weighed in at 1 lb 5 oz while the 1 ¼’ thin wall case (gray cap) weighed in at 9 oz.

I like this rod case the best, only problem, it requires a level of skill to make -

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Is it fly fishing?

Over the course of the past few weeks, it seems like every fly fishing related forum I regularly visit has had a topic or two started regarding Tenkara. In just about every case, one of the first discussion points raised is – Is it really fly fishing?

Of course, I guess it all comes down to what your definition of fly fishing is. If somewhere in your definition, there is a clause which mentions the use of reels and/or snake guides, then it’s obvious that fixed-length-line systems do not meet your requirements for being a fly fishing method.

One definition of fly fishing I found –

“Fly fishing is an ancient and distinct angling method, developed primarily for trout and now extended to other surface-oriented species such as grayling as well as a wide range of marine species. Artificial flies are constructed — "tied" onto a hook with thread, fur, feathers and other materials — in sizes and colors to match naturally occurring food or simply to excite a fish. Fly rods are relatively light and long while the lines are relatively heavy, providing the casting weight. Lines may be tapered and of differing densities to float or sink and are matched to the rod according to weight. The fly itself weighs very little and is attached to the line by a 2-3 meter leader which may taper to a very fine line at the tip end, also called the tippet.” ( 2010)

Using the quoted definition, I think Tenkara certainly meets all the criteria. It is both ancient and distinct, developed primarily for trout. The rod is both light and long, and the mass of the line is what is used to propel the otherwise weightless fly. BTW, it does use a tippet.

To be honest, I really don’t care how people choose to fish, as long as it’s legal. I also don’t really care what they think about the way I choose to fish (as long as I stay legal). I do find it somewhat amusing to hear from someone who fishes with a strike indicator and a couple of split shot and a San Juan worm say fixed-length-line systems aren’t really fly fishing, it’s just fishing with a cane pole. But of course, to each his/her own.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Shortening a Tenkara Rod

Several people have asked me about the possibility of making a shorter model of a Tenkara Rod available. Bad news, at this point, I'm not sure there would be sufficient demand to cover the cost of development and a production run. Good news, it is a simple and straight forward process to make a very fishable shorter rod out of an existing Tenkara rod.

I've been thinking about this for a bit. It would be very easy to modify an existing rod into a shorter version that would fish. Just remove the existing handled section, add a cork handle to the next (or next to next) section up, and you are there. What I've been thinking about, how does one store the rod when not fishing?

The handled section of a tenkara rod is usually a bit longer than the other sections to allow the entire rod to be collapsed into the handle section, with room for retaining cap. So would it be possible to easily extend the newly handled section to allow more space for rod storage? It hit me like a ton of bricks, all that is needed to to cut a length off the top section of the original handle. That would be installed at the butt end of the new handle section, and covered when a the new cork handle was installed.

The only thing that would take a bit of research, finding a plastic cap that would securely fit on the butt end of the cork handle that was added to seal the butt end of the rod. It should be secure, but removable in case the rod needed to be disassembled. The other bit of handy work required would be to make a replacement cap to fit the tip of the new handle section. That's easily done using a piece of foam.

If there is any interest, I may make up a model and take some pictures.