Sunday, 26 February 2017

to fish or not to fish? that is the question..

Angling is made up of lots of tiny decisions. The decision whether to even bother to go fishing at all can be the hardest one of all. It would certainly be easy to un-decide to go fishing today. 

The tail end of Storm Doris is lashing the land, scattering random items around the garden, the felt is flapping about on my shed roof and bed is warm and cosy. Temperature has dropped and rain is forecast. All in all not inspiring conditions for a tenkara outing. 

On the other hand it's been a tough few weeks at work and I have a bad case of the shack-nasties. I really could do with blowing the cobwebs out. Besides, I'm keen too to try out a kebari I've tied based on Dr Ishigaki's 'one-fly' pattern. It's a very simple tie, just black thread with a few turns of soft ginger hen hackle. It looks great on a curved size 14 barbless and it's a pattern that instinctively I have a lot of confidence in.

It's also just a few weeks until my local rivers close for non-trout species, not reopening again until mid June. So, soon it will be road trips of several hours in search of wild trout. In the meantime every opportunity to scratch the tenkara itch is precious and I know of a lovely little spot just a short drive from here. Having been 'confined to barracks' for too many days now I decide to get up and get out there, gale or no. Wind speed is starting to drop but time is short before the weather really closes in again. Not wanting to waste valuable minutes on the river bank I'm driving fully kitted up. Is it sad or mad to drive wearing your lucky hat, sling pack and waders? 

I arrive at the river half expecting to find trees blown over across the channel, but the willows have seen it all before. There is a lot of small debris about though and the water is cold and lower than I would have expected. But I find the fish where I expect them to be - great pods of dace and chub. So many that stalking the better fish is near on impossible, the small shoalies acting as extra eyes and an early warning system for the bigger fish. As I wade slowing upstream the pod scatters and reforms like so many iron filings being pushed along by a magnet with the same polarity. Let's hope that my fly has opposite polarity..   

The wind is dropping now to a constant gentle breeze with the odd fierce gust, but by timing my cast I can fish up or down stream without too much trouble. I'm using an 11ft  furled casting line with around 7ft of flouro tippet - the first 4 ft is 4x  and the final 3ft is 6x. Because of the chance of outsize fish I'm using a Hellbender from Dragontail Tenkara. A little more powerful than a classic tenkara rod but sensitive enough not to feel too over gunned with smaller fish. The more I fish with this rod across different scenarios the more I like it because it has such a versatile action. The zoom function is a really useful, practical feature too. The whole shooting match turns over really nicely despite the gusty conditions. I'm happy with Dr Ishigaki's kebari pattern - the contrast of black and ginger stands out well against the stones of the river bed without being too intense, which is good as the fish today are proving spooky.

It's interesting experimenting with ways to use the wind to change presentation. Up until now I've used a titanium casting line and short tippet to cut through the wind. This is very effective but compromises reach and limits presentation options, so today I decide to embrace the conditions and see if I can use them more to my advantage.

I start of my visit at a spot on the river where I can see some splashy rise forms.  
The thicker profile of the furled casting line catches the breeze more readily than a thinner level line. Probably a hindrance in stronger wind but right now it seems to be working well. I'm enjoying the new experience of using the line and wind to dap the fly - allowing the air currents to keep the fly airialised and drift it into position. Achieving accuracy is a bit like trying to herd cats - at least for me I think, but I manage a few dropped takes. Then the wind drops to a constant gentle upstream breeze. I find I can slow the drift right down on an upstream presentation by using the wind's drag on the line, even anchoring the fly stationary. Tricky though to avoid too much skating about of the fly when the air becomes turbulent, and with today's spooky fish this stimulation is pushing them too far.  

I decide a change of location. My next spot is more sheltered and seems too to be holding far more fish. I try an upstream cast but this seems to push the shoal further and further away upstream. One small chub takes my fly but spooks the shoal by charging about before coming to hand. The shoal scatters and regroups downstream where I can no longer see them in the riffle and reflected light, but I reason I must be more concealed from them too. The odd rise form betrays their position. 

Clearly a scenario for a downstream presentation. I have read how the downstream wet fly can induce many takes but fewer hook ups. This is because the fish feel the resistance of the line and quickly reject the fly before the angler can set the hook. Dr Ishigaki has a nice little video demonstrating this effect. But today, with an upstream breeze I find that by keeping just the front half of the tippet on the water the small belly in the furled casting line provides some soft 'give' in the line system and highly visible take detection.  A fish takes, the line plucks and there is plenty of time to lift and set the hook.

I am blessed with a sudden increase in feeding activity within the shoal. There is no fly life coming off of the water that I can see and I would say that by the splashy rise forms that the fish are hitting nymphs just below the surface. I have an unexpectedly productive, no manic, half hour when ten or more chub around the pound mark and some good dace come to hand. I am convinced that in this scenario only tenkara could have opened up this potential. It's the best angling fun I've had for ages, watching fish compete to hit my fly and seeing the line skate away. The 'one fly' certainly did the business, the only frustration coming from a battery failure on my camera that prevented some nice pictures of the better fish.

The weather has closed in again, so now I'm driving home in my waders with a big grin on my face, reflecting how sometimes the best times can be found in the most unpromising conditions.            

Saturday, 11 February 2017

urban tenkara/the road less travelled

The tenkara journey can take many parallel paths. 

My first path is a study of classic Japanese tenkara flies and techniques, the many subtle manipulations and approaches to catching wild trout with kebari. 

On this path I am  初心者  shoshinsha, green hand, novice.

My second path is a journey into the heart of things, into the self and therefore the universe. This too is the work of a lifetime.

My third is along the road less traveled by many, though well trodden by me -  urban tenkara.

This has been driven partly by the relative remoteness of wild trout fishing, and on the other hand, the super-abundance of wild urban coarse fishing opportunities near by. And partly by my coarse fishing roots that led me eventually to chasing coarse fish with a western fly road, and then naturally on to tenkara.                                                                                                   
It has become something of a mini-mission of mine to spread the word on urban tenkara and so it's great to learn that I have a couple of snippets of press in this month's 'Fly Fishing and Fly Tying' magazine and on Turrall flies blog. Some of my captures earned second place in the UK national fly fishing competition 'Fly for Coarse'. So I am feeling quite pleased,  particularly as this was the only 'fixed-line' fly entry and the top choice of panel judge and angling superstar Matt Hayes.  

I have found classic tenkara flies and techniques particularly relevant to catching river species like dace, chub and roach, all of which can be just as challenging and rewarding as wild trout. There are of course big differences too, not least the fact that these species often shoal. Each have their own unique patterns of behavior, sometimes very similar to trout, but sometimes very different. There is also the challenge posed by the sheer range of fish sizes you may find yourself connected to in comparison to an average trout stream. 

Of these three river species I have found dace to be the most similar to small stream trout. Some of the better dace will often hold station in micro pocket water, dashing out to sample offerings passing by, but rarely chasing a fly for more than six or so body lengths.  Here very short fly-only dead drifts or anchoring techniques are often the order of the day.

The smaller dace hunt the riffles. Here down-and-across and downstream manipulations are effective when the pace of the current makes a dead drift too fast for the fly to be detected or worth chasing.   

Moving on to methods for chub and roach are worthy of separate posts in their own right, while approaches for stillwater bream, perch and rudd may take us away from classic tenkara altogether and could more accurately be described as 'fixed-line fly fishing'.


Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The River

Slow down,
slow your breathing down.
The river rushes past with chaotic urgency.
Slow right down. 
Let the myriad sounds of bright water wash over you. 
A new, steadier rhythm will emerge. 
Let this be your rhythm.

Stay low, move slowly. 
Tie on your fly. 
Take time, be sure of your connection. 
The sun is strong today but the trees filter and dapple the light, 
confusing the eye with ever changing contrasts and reflections. 
Look beyond the prism and you may see the shapes of fish in your mind's eye.

Each cast is unique and may never be remade
and a fish is but one of many outcomes.
Here in this place, the person you were has become the person you are.
In this place, the person you are becomes the person you will be.
For the river is time itself.

The River by David West Beale