All work and no play makes Seth a dull boy.

I am in my third week of excavating the garden, and I am beginning to feel like I am digging my own grave. I am a little over 2/3rds done with the digging, and could probably build a fence around the garden capable of withstanding a nuclear attack with the rock I have pulled out of the ground.

Time to go fishing!

I finally bought a real tenkara rod – a 12′ Yamame 7:3. Since I hope to also pursue river smallmouth on the fly I opted for the stiffer rod to give me a bit more leverage if I hook a bigger fish. As I always attempt to be the Spartan minimalist, I have tried to keep my gear down to the bare essentials.

I have the rod, furled line, fly box with flies, two tippet spools (both about 4# test; fluorocarbon for subsurface and mono for dry flies), tungsten putty (for use as sinker material; it's way cheaper on eBay), floatant, line clippers, trout dough (I ain't proud), and polarized sunglasses; I am trying to avoid bulging vests. I don't have waders, but I wear waterproof sealskin socks with my canoeing boots since the only time I have been entering the water is to ford streams. And, of course, I carry the standard knife, compass, lighter, etc that I always carry when I am bushwhacking.

Before anyone thinks that I know what I am talking about I should point out that I have never caught a fish on a fly before. For me attempting to learn fly fishing is (as it probably is for most fly fishers) about trying to live a somewhat romantic ideal. While chucking chicken livers to catfish and Panther Martins to bass and pike is loads of fun (and does fulfill a Tom Sawyer sort of romantic ideal), the archetypal fisherman of lore is the crafty, experienced fly fisherman who stalks and presents his fly (most likely a dry-fly, and one he tied himself, of course) to wary trout in park-like spring creeks. After all, if it was only about getting fish, gill nets and m80s can do the job faster and easier.

Now don’t think that I am trying to become a tweed shrouded gentleman sipping single malt scotch while smoking a meerschaum pipe (I prefer bourbon to scotch when it comes to grain alcohol; I do have a meerschaum pipe, however). I love reading books by John Gierach; he is much more my ideal of The Fisherman. He seems just as happy catching bass on poppers as when he is catching trout on dry-flies. He believes in catch-and-release, but does not shy away from making an occasional meal of the fish he catches. In other words, he takes it all seriously, but not so seriously that he cannot have fun at the same time.

My first attempt at fly fishing happened abortively about three years ago. I liked the idea of fly fishing, and had received a 5 weight rod for my birthday, but I knew nothing about the mechanics of fly fishing. I practiced casting in the backyard and headed to a local stream that was supposed to have trout in it. After flailing away for a morning and not catching any fish I became discouraged and put the rod in the closet and forgot about it. I still liked the idea of fly fishing, but was overwhelmed by the complexity of everything – dries, nymphs, streamers, hatches, tippet sizes, line drag, roll casting, waders, reels, sinking line, an so on.

Last year I began trying to understand it all in earnest. I started by exploring a nearby stream without a rod. Slowly and carefully working my way down the stream, I was able to see a few trout in isolated pools (just because a pool looks like it should have fish does not mean that it does). Brook trout have amazing camouflage; you can stare at a pool that looks empty and suddenly as you focus they will come into view almost ethereally. I also began reading a lot. There is no substitute for experience, but at least through reading I have some idea of what I am trying to make my fly look like when I cast it (if nothing else I know more about the life cycle of a mayfly than I did before).

I became interested in the idea of tenkara after trying to lug my regular fly rod through the brush. The streams I have been scouting are small and brushy. There is little use for a 50′ cast on these streams, and trying to negotiate a strung up fly rod through the brush can lead to moments of insanity. With the tenkara rod I can reach out to around 20′ or so (if the wind isn’t against me) and can collapse the rod down to 20″ in a few seconds without having to unstring the rod. I did find that simply coiling the line in my hand while moving through the brush caused some nasty tangles so I took some advice from the Tenkara USA forum.

I was fishing a prince nymph as a dropper under an elk hare caddis, if you can see the two flies on the rod. My cousin swears by that fly arrangement.

If you can tell from the picture, I have put wire hooks that I can wrap the line around to keep from developing tangles. I just made mine from heavy wire; they work and don’t look half bad either.

I had some of my flies left over from my first attempt at fly fishing, got some more from Orvis (they periodically have a deal where you can get their 20 top flies for $9.95 with free shipping), but the rest came from the Great Lakes Fly Company here in Duluth. The owner, John, was extremely friendly and helpful, and I would highly recommend them. If I ever get into fly tying, I will definitely take their class (John’s flies are beautiful).

Despite all of my studying, I have not found the fish yet this year. I cruised some streams west of Duluth with my cousin last weekend, but they looked pretty silty for trout and had little cover besides. I went to the stream by my parent’s house this morning, but other than a few small fry I did not see any fish. It has been exceptionally dry here for the last few months (We had one large storm on Christmas last year, but have had very little precipitation since then) and spring came much earlier than normal. Last week was the stream opener, but as the snow has been melted for almost two months the water levels are very low and the water temperature is surprisingly warm for April. Hopefully the trout were just hiding from me, but we had a massive cold snap with little snow cover this winter which could have frozen some of the small pools all the way through.

I think next time I go fishing I will try the streams down closer to Lake Superior where the water should be higher (in theory). Plus in another month it will be bass season, and I know some good spots to find them. I would like to find some spawning beds for panfish that I can cast from shore for as well. I wonder how small pike would be on a tenkara rod? I doubt there are too many tenkara anglers looking for pike; I could start a trend (if I don’t break my rod first). I try to work under the mantra that my favorite fish is whatever one is currently biting my hook.

I am also thinking of making a short line for dapping small pools in heavy cover. I found this neat video of how to make furled leaders without tools, and I figure a five foot furled line with a couple of feet of tippet would be ideal for dapping. The 12′ rod should allow me to stand well back from the water and fish without the trout seeing me. Plus with the rod’s small diameter and the fact that I fish in forested terrain, they should be less apt to spook by seeing the rod. It is worth a shot anyway (especially in the thickest terrain where you cannot even bow-and-arrow cast).

Well, enough fun for now. I still have 12 more feet of garden to dig.

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