I love to fish.

Fishing is a philosophical and often metaphysical activity; it could have come straight from the Tao Te Ching. It is the meeting of life and death; of harmony and chaos. It can be the greatest, most peaceful activity imaginable and the most frustrating, bang-your-head-against-a-cinder-block-wall experience possible, all in the same afternoon.

Most importantly, it is the ability to do nothing, while doing something.

Here is my short list of why fishing is awesome:

  1. Fish are yummy
  2. It is an important ability for the self-reliant to posses
  3. Your mind can wander from pre-Socratic philosophy to Lynyrd Skynyrd without missing a beat
  4. You can crack a beer at 6:30 AM and no one will think less for you for it.

I have talked about my regular fishing gear before, but I had always wanted to build a mini pocket fishing kit that I could always have with me in case I should stumble upon a nice pocket of fishy water in my travels. I also have been trying to get into fly fishing, so I wanted my kit to give me the ability to fly fish without too much difficulty. Here is what I came up with:

Fishing Kit Parts

It ain’t fancy, but it is portable.

Contents:

  1. A tiny Altoids tin (2.5 x 1.5 x 0.5″) with a match striker and block of foam (to hold flies) glued to the inside of the lid
  2. 50′ of 4# fluorocarbon line on a sewing machine bobbin
  3. A 7.5′ furled leader (wrapped around plastic tube)
  4. Hooks, sinkers, and swivels (kept inside plastic tube)
  5. A 1/32 oz Panther Martin Fly lure (gold/orange, kept inside plastic tube)
  6. Fishing flies – an olive woolly bugger, a parachute Adams, an elk hair caddis, 2 gold ribbed hare’s ears, and a prince nymph
  7. A small bobber
  8. A small vial of fancy Himalayan salt (nothing is too good for my fish)
  9. 6 wax dipped strike-anywhere matches and a razor blade (under the premise that one can never have too many fire starters and sharp edges)
  10. An inner tube band to hold it all together

With these components I can build a casting stick to bait and lure fish with, clean and cook my catch, and build a makeshift tenkara rod.

What is a tenkara? It is a Japanese method of small stream fly fishing that is centuries old. Unlike modern western fly fishing which uses a rod and reel, it consists of a long rod with a fixed line (about foot longer than the rod); as simple as can be. It is becoming popular in the US with the start up of Tenkara USA (check it out, you will be intrigued), and seems to be the hot topic on all the forums with people either loving it or hating it. Although it may seem too simple to the western mind to be effective, western angling was fixed line for most of its existence (check out the Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle, it is the best of 15th century fishing technology).

I should point out that I am relatively new to fishing. I have only been fishing for about five years since I decided that it might be something fun to do while canoeing. I had to pretty much teach myself the tricks of the trade, and I can now hold my own in most situations. While this means that I am no expert, I do have two advantages in being a relative novice: I am as happy catching a 3″ sucker as a 3 pound northern, and I am always open to new ideas.

I have always been fascinated by Japan since I read Shogun in high school. I studied aikido in college (I am not all that good, but I can take a fall like no one’s business), and my original NES from 1989 is still functioning. While I don’t believe that just because something is Japanese it is superior to its western equivalent (you can keep saké, I’ll have a Guinness), there is something about clean simplicity bedded with deep tradition that is universally appealing.

I like the concept of tenkara; fishing has become too complex for me in a lot of ways. Much like engineers say that you lose 15% of mechanical efficiency every time that you add a set of gears to a machine (or something like that), every complex add-on seems to make the fishing more about the gear than the fish.

I figure I will buy a Tenkara rod before next spring’s trout opener (I am thinking the Yamame; it should have enough backbone to land the little smallmouth I catch in the Cloquet River), but for now I thought it might be fun to improvise for the purposes of the pocket kit.

My basic set up is to cut a sapling around 6′-7′ long (not really tenkara length, but I don’t have the luxury of bamboo or river cane in northern Minnesota and even willow or aspen gets cumbersome quickly if it is too long). I fasten the furled leader (which is pretty similar to a tenkara line I figure) with some of the 4# line as a tippet. It back casts pretty well, and roll casts beautifully, although at 15 feet of total reach is not going to win any casting competitions.

Trout Hole
I have been scouting a small stream near my house and had found this little pool where the brook trout all stack up to stay cool in the afternoon. This was thrilling to me as I have never caught a brook trout but have always wanted to. In northern Minnesota, we do not have open streams in the middle of wide meadows; we have thick forest walling in the streams, making an easy approach often difficult. And with only 15′ of reach with my rig, I have to be stealthy like a ninja to stalk the trout. It is relatively easy to stay hidden as the sun is directly upstream at around 2 PM and so the fish cannot see upstream very well (as long as you don’t let your shadow fall near them), and of course approaching from downstream is always good as the fish will be facing the other way. Unfortunately, as I was approaching the hole I slipped on the rocks, spooking all of the bigger trout (bigger means 5″-9″ in this stream). I stuck around anyway and had the little fry trout playing with my hare’s ear nymphs and Adams dry fly. Their mouths were too small to take the hook (which I didn’t really want them to do anyway), but I do have fun playing with the little guys; since I am not actually hooking them it is a game to me and to the fish.

But that is what fishing is about anyway – a moment of Zen. Standing there playing with the fish on a beautiful September day was what it was all about.

Although loosing three flies to the overhanging tree wasn’t very Zen.

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