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Tenkara & The Fly Fishing Show

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Near The Fly Shack’s big booth at The Fly Fishing Show in Edison, N.J.

We used to call it just “Somerset,” and now that it’s relocated, we call it just “Edison.” One word is enough when the mammoth expo formally known as The Fly Fishing Show makes its annual stop in the metro New York area.

As always, it’s an overwhelming experience. There’s way more expertise than one could possibly absorb in a weekend. There is aisle after aisle of tempting toys, up-close fly-tying demonstrations by the masters, and lots of catching up with old friends.

I was lucky enough to catch a casting demo by Joe Humphreys, who among other things is the star instructor at the for-credit fly-fishing program at Penn State University. At 90, Humphreys is also one of the most engaging and entertaining celebrities on the fly-fishing circuit. He makes beautiful left-handed casts, he drops to his knees, he cracks jokes, he dispenses rock-solid advice.

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Pennsylvania guru Joe Humphreys demonstrates, and a large crowd hangs on his every word and cast.

Far younger is Landon Mayer of Colorado, one of fly-fishing’s thought leaders these days. Landon won over my inner tenkara geek when he said, “Eighty percent of the trout are caught within 20 feet,” and he demonstrated casting with only about that amount of line out of the guides. Next time I’m using a rod and reel, I will add his “close the fridge door” motion to my forward casting stroke, and strip streamers like I’m strumming a guitar.

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Landon Mayer of Colorado didn’t make any hero casts, but his demo surely upped his audience’s game. 

I was proud to see Tenkara Today (along with Simple Flies) on display at the expo’s sprawling bookstore. I was also happy to see Karin Miller, founder of Zen Tenkara, giving talks and talking tenkara at her booth. Karin had the tenkara space all to herself. Neither Tenkara USA not TenkaraBum, both of which had exhibited in the past, were present at Edison this year. Karin had also given a great appearance at River Bay Outfitters in Baldwin, N.Y., Long Island’s only dedicated fly shop.

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Zen Tenkara founder Karin Miller talking tenkara at River Bay Outfitters on Long Island in advance of the big show. 

Beaches, Breakers & Bass

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No fly-fishing today. Well, actually, there was, but all the catching was with spinning rods.

It was, after all, the Atlantic coast, with a gusty wind and angry surf. And as surely as I believe a tenkara rod is the best tool for fishing a trout stream, I believe a spinning rod is the best tool for fishing an ocean beach.

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The fall run of striped bass down the Atlantic coast brings a lot of anglers to the shore. (Some of these guys were probably fishing before work.) 

I’m recovering from a mild foot injury, and it doesn’t look like I’ll do much stumbling around in trout streams for the remainder of this season.  But a walk on the beach didn’t seem likely to cause me further damage. Especially on the hard sand by the water. And especially since my friend, the outdoor writer Joe Albanese, has a permit to drive his cool fishing truck on the beaches of Long Island.

I was afraid the wind would make casting a nightmare, but it was coming from our left shoulders and didn’t interfere that much. We managed to cover the foaming wash dumped by the breaking waves, where Joe had found fish four mornings earlier. But if our flies were seen by any stripers, they were ignored.

“I’ve got a couple of spinning rods in the truck,” Joe said. (Said truck was parked right behind us on the beach.)

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Not a kebari. A 1/2-ounce bucktail jig, with a wiggly rubber tail stuck on the hook.

From 2003 to 2007, I did nothing but fly-fish salt water on Long Island’s north and south shores. It was a magnificent game to learn, and I did ok – caught some really cool fish and had some remarkable experiences, many of them after midnight. But there were so many times – so many times – when surf-casters alongside me outfished me badly with beach-appropriate spinning rods and a bag of bucktail jigs, plugs, darters, diamond jigs and poppers. They could reach fish farther away, they could cover more water, and their lures were big and heavy and loud enough to immediately attract ocean fish.

There’s no glory in fighting a 30 mph gale with a fly rod to eek out a 40-foot cast through fishless foamy water. Not when you could be heaving a half-ounce bucktail 100 feet and dropping it onto the crest of a six-foot-tall wave, one potentially holding schoolie stripers chasing their breakfast.

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Joe Albanese with a healthy schoolie.

We each caught seven or eight. Many of Joe’s came on the beach side of the breaking waves, while most of mine were in the deeper water just behind the breakers. I noticed that if there was going to be a strike, it usually happened pretty quickly. I’d feel a couple of taps, and then, wham, head-shakes and weight. I had forgotten how stubbornly a striped bass can fight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy right arm was actually sore when we knocked off at 9:30 and re-inflated Joe’s tires at the compressor installed there years ago by the Long Island Beach Buggy Association. (You let half the air out of your tires for better traction on the sand.)

None of our fish were keepers (28” or better), but several were close. Hardcore striper fishers might have been disappointed, but we had a great time. I’m still hoping I can get in some trout fishing before the snow flies, but I’m glad to have been reminded how much fun you can have at the beach. My thanks to Joe for the first and fifth photos, and for chauffeuring me through the dunes of Democrat Point.

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Joe airing back up. Off the sand, back on the parkway.

 


 

Check out my new book, Tenkara Today, about the rise of Japanese fixed-line fly-fishing in America. It explains how tenkara tackle works, and tells the story of a movement that has left its mark on outdoor recreation in the United States and across the western world. It’s available online, but you might want to check if your local bookseller or fly shop has it first.

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Tenkara Today

coverIntroducing Tenkara Today, my new book about the rise of Japanese fixed-line fly-fishing in America. It explains how tenkara tackle works, and tells the story of a movement that has left its mark on outdoor recreation in the United States and across the western world.

I had been a fly-fisherman for 25 years when I first encountered tenkara in 2009. It was exotic: a very long, very light telescoping rod with only a rod’s length of line, attached directly to the tip — no reel. I soon learned tenkara fishermen didn’t fuss very much over what fly to use. I also learned that tenkara was a great way to catch trout in streams.

Inexpensive and easy to learn, tenkara caught on. A small company called Tenkara USA was the first to sell tenkara gear outside of Japan. Others followed, and a niche industry took hold, catering to both veteran anglers and people who had never fly-fished before.

Tenkara Today profiles Daniel Galhardo, the young immigrant who gave up a corporate career to launch Tenkara USA, and Chris Stewart, the Colorado-born New Yorker who became the top importer of Japanese tenkara gear for the American market. The book will introduce you to Ed Van Put, the renowned Catskill Mountains fly-fisher who had an epiphany with a tenkara rod given to him by the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. in 1998; to Karin Miller, who got the cold shoulder from the fly-fishing industry when she went into the tenkara business; to Tenkara Guides LLC, the first American outfitters dedicated to fixed-line fly-fishing, and anglers of all stripes who have come to love the simple, graceful pleasure of fishing with a tenkara rod.

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Catskills fly-fisher Ed Van Put with a Daiwa rod he started using in the late 1990s, when tenkara was virtually unknown in the U.S.

You’ll also learn how to choose a tenkara rod, how to set it up for fishing, when and where to fish, and what to do when you’ve caught a fish (and you will catch fish.) And you’ll see how] tenkara can fit into your outdoor life, whether you’re a die-hard fly-fisher, a cyclist, climber or hiker whose adventures take you near mountain streams, or a city dweller with a park pond nearby and some time to spend along its shore.

 

Tenkara Today is published by Stackpole Books and has a cover price of $24.95.

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Time to Tie One On

I’m looking forward to joining Bob Clouser, Tom Rosenbauer and a big group of awesome fly-tiers Saturday at at Tie One On Fly Tying Rendezvous at the Genesee Grande Hotel in Syracuse, New York.

We’re coming to the end of the fly-fishing show season, but I imagine people are psyched for Tie One On. For one thing, it’s a benefit that supports a number of great causes, including Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Casting for Recovery, Hope on the Rise, the Carpenter’s Brook Fish Hatchery, and the conservation work done by the Iroquois Chapter of Trout Unlimited, host of the event.

It’s also all the things we love about a fly-tying expo: a chance to gather with like-minded sportsmen and women, a trout fishing gabfest in a region with a ton of great fishing, and best of all the chance to watch and talk with expert fly-tiers.

Clouser obviously needs no introduction. No one else I can think of has invented a fly so important that most of the fly-fishing world calls it by just one word. Rosenbauer of course is one of the top fly-fishing authors of his time, in addition to being a top executive at Orvis.

This is Tie One On’s fifth year, and it’s growing. About 30 people attended the first one in 2012; last year, there were more than 300.

I’ll be there, trying not to embarrass myself at the vise and signing (and selling) my book, Simple Flies: 52 Easy-to-Tie Patterns That Catch Fish.

Admission is only $10 and $ for active TU members, and I hear the Genesee Grande is a pretty swanky place. Sounds like a good time.

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We love this kind of stuff.

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Stacked deer hair maestro Pat Cohen will be on hand…

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…and so will Catskill dry-fly master Dave Brandt. All photos courtesy of Jim Froio of the Iroquois chapter.

The Pheasant Tail’s Cousin

No fly has ever reminded me more of a natural bug than the Pheasant Tail nymph. Frank Sawyer achieved fly-fishing immortality when he invented it. It’s a very clever insect imitation that catches lots of trout. It’s also a very simple fly, especially the way Sawyer tied it: nothing but pheasant tail feather fibers, copper wire and a hook.

I included the Sawyer Pheasant Tail in my book, Simple Flies: 52 Easy-to-Tie Patterns That Catch Fish. A few weeks ago, I was honored to learn that a well-known figure in the fly-fishing world, Harry Murray of Edinburg, Virginia, had read the book and liked it. It turns out my cousin by marriage lives close to Murray’s Fly Shop and showed Harry the book.

Not long after that, Harry sent me one of the coolest fly-fishing things I’ve ever had: a set of Grey Goose nymphs – a close relative of the Pheasant Tail – tied by Sawyer’s widow, whose name I understand was Margaret. They’re beautifully slim, buggy in a very understated way. They’re dainty 16s, great Blue Winged Olive or Sulfur nymphs. In fact, they resemble many little insects trout snack on all day long. Like the Pheasant Tail, they’re minimalist: copper wire underbody & rib, goose wing feather fibers for the tail and body.

Grey GooseI find it interesting that the bellies of the thoraxes on the Sawyer nymphs aren’t covered with goose; they’re just naked copper wire. I think trout really like copper wire. The Sawyers’ neighbor across the road, Oliver Kite, was a celebrity fly-fisher in England in the 1960s and sometimes fished with what he called the Bare Hook Fly, which consisted of nothing more than a ball of copper wire on the front half of a hook.

He caught fish with it. I’m not sure what to make of that. But I’m proud to possess Mrs. Sawyer’s nymphs. The Grey Goose and the Pheasant Tail exemplify what I admire about simple flies. Their design includes everything that’s necessary – a slim, segmented body in insect-like earth tones, with muted flash from the wire – and nothing more.

An American Tenkara Rod, Made in Japan

Most of the tenkara rods sold in the U.S. are made in China. Nothing wrong with that – Chinese factories make some fine rods, tenkara and otherwise, these days. But for the most serious tenkara fans, there’s just something special about a rod made in Japan.

So it’s something of a milestone that New York-based TenkaraBum is out with a new rod made to American specs in tenkara’s homeland.

“This is the first rod developed by an American tenkara angler and a Japanese rod company for sale in America and also Japan,” says TenkaraBum founder Chris Stewart.

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The Japanese company is Suntech, in Nagoya, and Chris says it has a reputation for high standards. Other Suntech rods, when they’re available, have been very well-received in the U.S.

We Americans just love our bead-head nymphs, but standard tenkara rods have never been ideal for that kind of fishing. Their soft action leaves something to be desired on hook-sets. Stewart asked Suntech to give the TenkaraBum 36 a stiffer midsection that provides the necessary backbone to set a hook several feet under water.

“It has a different action than any tenkara rod I’ve come across,” Stewart said. But it is still a tenkara rod, of course, so it’s sweet for wet flies and dry flies.

The 2.2–ounce TenkaraBum 36 is 11 feet, 10 inches long and has an EVA foam grip. It’s a beauty, black with a silver band around the end of each section and a fine glittery finish on the handle section. I got mine today and plan to use it for the first time on the Farmington River in Connecticut.

TenBum is proud to have his brand on a Japanese-made rod. “It’s a Japanese fishing style,” he said. “I wanted to have it made in Japan. They’ve got the institutional knowledge and making these kinds of rods for years.”

You can get yours for $230 at TenkaraBum.com.

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Rich Strolis: Flies for ‘The Toughest Fish’

I was lucky enough to tie flies next to Rich Strolis at Partridge Days at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum earlier this month.

Rich made a name for himself while guiding on the great trout rivers of western Connecticut, close to his hometown of Russell, Massachusetts. He’s become one of the leaders of the modern streamer fly movement, targeting large fish with large flies.

Trout Dart

It’s challenging to design a fly that’s big enough to tempt a big fish while remaining easy to cast and resistant to getting the tail wrapped around the hook. The fly shown here is a rough draft of one of Rich’s current flies, the Pike Dart. He usually adds either a head or an eye of some sort, but he had to run off to give a presentation on streamer fishing.

It’s a great-looking fly with a smart design – a body made from an EP Fibers dubbing brush gives the fly a nice fat profile and keeps the tail away from the bend of the hook. Here’s a video showing how it’s tied.

Rich ties this fly anywhere from 7 to 9 inches long, in various colors, to catch pike. He said he would consider this one a Trout Dart, but I think it would be a great peanut bunker imitation for striped bass. (The larger ones would obviously be good striper flies too.)

Rich has a book coning out January 1: Catching Shadows: Tying Flies for the Toughest Fish and Strategies for Fishing Them, by Stackpole Books. I’m looking forward to reading it.

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Gierach Coming to the Catskills

John Gierach, author of Trout Bum, Another Lousy Day in Paradise and 18 other books, will be inducted into the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum’s Hall of Fame Oct. 10.

Also being inducted is Bill Elliott, an artist who has illustrated 38 books and whose work has run in all the big hunting and fishing magazines, including Field & Stream, Sports Afield and Outdoor Life.

Curt Gowdy, host and producer of The American Sportsman (and a member of 20 other halls of fame, as an angler and sportscaster) and Charles Ritz, influential 20th century fly-fishing author, will be inducted posthumously.

Gierach gave a talk at The Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, New Jersey in January. Here’s a report I did on that event for About.com.

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The Improved Montana Stone

The Improved Montana Stone is a traditional all-purpose nymph. What’s unusual about it is its very simple construction. It’s made of one feather and a six-inch piece of wool yarn (not counting the chassis – hook, lead and thread.)

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I’m a big fan of yarn as a material for sub-surface flies. It’s quicker, easier and probably cheaper than dubbing fur onto tying thread, and creates a natural, slightly rough-looking body with built-in segmentation. You can separate the yarn into plies to make smaller flies or use it as is for the larger models.

Speaking of larger models, I brought a handful of IMS to the Farmington River in Connecticut, which thanks to Mother Nature, the Hartford water supply district and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is chock full of sizable trout.

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It’s unusual to catch anything smaller than an honest 12 inches on the Farmington, and if you do catch anything smaller than that it’s a wild trout, which is always nice. People who know the river well land 20-inchers on a regular basis. I’m not one of them, but having grown up on skinny 9-inch hatchery yearlings over the state line in New York, I enjoy the Farmy’s plump, 12-inch browns.

The IMS was met with approval by a few handsome trout and one acrobatic show-off bass during a couple of brief sessions over the weekend.

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As its name suggests, the Improved Montana is a stonefly pattern, but I figured it would be a good Isoynchia nymph in size 10 and the fish didn’t disagree.

The wing case did pop loose on one fly after a tussle with a trout. So the IMS isn’t exactly bomb-proof. But it’s so easy to make, I consider it expendable.

You’ll find the recipe and how the fly came to be on page 74 of Simple Flies: 52 Easy to Tie Patterns That Catch Fish.

U.S. Youth Are World Champs — Again

The land of Gierach and Gordon, Lefty Kreh and Lee Wulff, used to be a perennial also-ran in the world of competition fly-fishing.

The U.S. adult fly fishing team went decades without so much as a bronze medal, while European countries – in particular the Czech Republic – took gold after gold.

That’s all changed in recent years. The men’s team finally medaled this year at the World Championship, winning the silver. Last summer in Colorado, Fly Fishing Team USA won the America Cup, an international tournament very much like the world championship.

The grown-up American anglers have now finished in the Top 5 three years in a row. And the 2016 world championship will be in Vail.

But while the men have steadily worked their way toward respectability, the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team has become the world’s best by a mile. The younger anglers won the FIPS-Mouche Youth World Championship over the weekend – the team’s third gold in a row and fourth in five years. Hunter Hoffler of Moreland, Georgia, who at 18 is aging out of the youth team, won the individual gold medal.

Hoffler is the host of “In The Loop: Modern tactics on the Fly,” a comp-fishing inspired show that has aired on cable outdoor sports networks.

Fellow Georgian Mason Sims took the individual silver medal. Cam Chioffi of Massachusetts finished sixth and Hunter Enloe of North Carolina finished seventh.

The youth team beat out Poland and the Czech Republic, the silver and bronze medalists respectively, in what was described as a tough, close contest on the Eagle and Colorado rivers, Sylvan Lake and Dillon Reservoir.

John Gierach and and Lefty Kreh may or may not care for comp fishing. Wulff didn’t have much to say about it, as far as I know (though his wife, Joan Salvato Wulff, was a world champion competition caster), and Gordon flat-out didn’t like it.

Even so, with the U.S. men finding their groove and a dominant youth team aging out of the junior circuit and into the senior ranks, the American anglers’ days as also-rans seem to be over.

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World champion Hunter Hoffler with his his folks, Melissa and Phil Town, and the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team’s first-place trophy.