Gosh, There ARE Trout In There!

Oh yeah, they’re there.  Hiding. Waiting.  Lurking on the bottom and along the edges. There’s a portion of Spring Creek where a languid run is compressed into a long chute of rushing water, water now nervous and impatient. When I was new to trout fishing, I used to pass this stretch by, not understanding that trout do indeed inhabit this water.  Now it has become my favorite water. The takes here are explosive, Poseidon trout-missiles launching from the depths to annihilate whatever large buoyant fly I offer. Before tenkara, I would highstick with my five weight, using just a foot or less of flyline and a shortened leader and tippet held high off the stream. This proved a successful strategy, yet there were attractive looking areas just beyond the reach of my nine-foot rod. Tenkara has largely solved this dilemma. With its extra three feet of reach, my Iwana now allows me to pick these pockets, significantly improving my catch rate.  Watch the attached video to see how it works.














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Tried It

Loaded and Ready

Plans are equal parts preparation and hope.  When the planets align, and the fishing gods are smiling, a singular day of angling awaits.  So it was yesterday.  I arrived at G.T.’s just after dawn, the forecast calling for a quick warmup into the nineties;  unseasonal for mid-June.  We were bound for that Conservation Dept. lake we had discovered on our last target shooting outing.  The one with that beautiful emerald green color, where we watched bass and bluegill cruising the shore, standing there without our rods.

On the way, we took the time to stop at Ihop; easier to concentrate on the fishing with a full stomach and a good load of caffeine on board.  For basic yet tasty breakfast fare, it’s hard to beat Ihop.

Fueling Up

Like many state forest lakes, getting there involves gravel roads and low water stream crossings.  The payoff is seclusion and solitude.  The temperature was hovering at a pleasant 70 degrees when we arrived.  A gentle wind roughened the lake’s surface, and soon we had the kayak unloaded, ready to launch.  Somewhere a bullfrog protested our presence.  Carefully stepping into the kayak, I  settled comfortably in the seat, and  pushed off, the paddle finding purchase in the lake’s mud bottom.  The sensation of gliding was akin to flying, especially if I concentrated on the sky’s reflection in the water.


First, let me say that if you are seeking a fishing kayak, it would be difficult to improve upon the Malibu Pro Explorer.  A little heavy at about 65 lbs but oh so stable in the water.  Easy to maneuver with a very comfortable padded seat.  Rigging my 12′ Iwana with an equal length of 4.5 level line and five feet of 5X tippet and a small green popper, I began to fish the shoreline from the kayak.  Immediately small bluegill began their beserker attack.  Then (here’s the proverbial fish story) a bass of at least three pounds pounced.  I could see the entire fish in the clear water near shore.  It dove, wrapped the line around some underwater debris, and…well, you can guess the rest.  I went on to catch some nice green sunfish but no more bass.

Put a Nice Bend in the Iwana

After a leisurely circuit of the entire lake, the temperature quickly increasing, I reluctantly ended this day of angling.  Needless to say, G.T. and I will be returning to plumb the mysteries of this lake.



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Can’t Wait To Try It

"Looks Fishy"

Still A Great Little Gun
G.T. Readies the Puma

G.T. and I went target shooting at a state conservation area the other day. An absolutely perfect spring day, sunny and 60s. We had the outdoor shooting range to ourselves and managed to expend a couple hundred rounds of .22LR.  G.T. had brought his competition .22 rifle with a scope, and I my trusty .22 single-shot rifle Dad bought me for $15 when I was twelve.

After we were sated with the gunplay, as we exited the conservation area, we noticed a small lake with a very pleasant, fishy blue-green color.  Immediately we stopped to reconnoiter.  I’m not a good judge of area, but I would estimate the lake at three acres or so, certainly larger than what I would call a pond.  As we stood on a hillside looking down at the water, we could see bluegill and bass cruising the shore.  The decision was made.  We would return as soon as possible and launch a kayak and fish towards that very attractive shoreline, me with my trusty Iwana and some poppers.  I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Cataloochee Color

Forest and Light


your forest dense and deep,

cold, racing water

patiently sculpts mossy stone,


air scented

with evergreen

and trout,


black bear, curious, watches

the angling symphony

I conduct with my Iwana.


A hawk’s scream

distracts  from the brookie’s strike,

and the dim forest suddenly darker.


A detonation of thunder,

the deluge begins.


A sprint to the tent.

Inside I listen,

I sleep,

I dream…



The Siren Sings Her Song


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“The Wintertime Blues”

Tenkara in the US is, of course, a sport still evolving.  With the publishing of his online literary magazine devoted to tenkara and related topics, “The Wintertime Blues,”, Anthony Naples, author of the fine blog Casting Around has advanced the culture of tenkara in a significant way.  As you have no doubt already discovered, there exist many people in the blogosphere who enjoy writing or doing art or photography related to tenkara.  These people by and large are talented in their respective crafts.  I found the prose, poetry, and art in “The Wintertime Blues” to be professional, entertaining, and sometimes poignant.

I look forward to the day when tenkara has its own body of literature similar to traditional flyfishing and a regular online magazine.  Anthony Naples’ effort is a huge leap toward this goal.  Kudos!

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Coulda’ Knocked Me Over With A Hackle Feather!


preparing to go mano a mano with the Bully of the Boulder

In the almost three years I’ve been tenkara angling on Spring Creek, I’ve yet to encounter another tenkara fisher.  But yesterday I met two anglers who recognized the type of rod I was using, one referring to my Iwana as “one of those Japanese rods” and the other actually calling it “tenkara” by name.  In fact, he informed me, one of the flyshops local to Spring Creek has begun selling tenkara rods. Wow,the tide is turning.

Spring, in these parts, is fast winning its tug-of-war with winter.  Color has returned to the riparian forest–bits of green, white, and lavender smoke among the still-predominant browns.  Come dusk, the spring peepers begin an all-night bacchanalia of song,  My wife and I awoke in the wee hours and were rewarded with the most dazzling display of stars one can expect in this region, abetted by the thinnest sliver of a moon and a sky of uncommon clarity.

As I suggested in the last post to this blog, I was interested in trying the sakasa kebari variant of the white fly.

white fly, sakasa kebari variant

I can’t think of a simpler fly to tie, consisting of just thread, hackle, and hook.  This day the trout were playing their cards close to the vest.  As is my custom, I started fishing the Boulder Pool, where a VW-sized rock juts into the stream.  Where the current stacks up against its upstream edge is always a good spot to try one’s luck, especially at the corner of the boulder where the current resumes its downstream course.  Just before the river makes that turn is a small recess where a trout always lurks.  Not just any trout.  Not a pushover trout, but a wily fish who zealously guards this lair and is as picky in accepting flies as is a three-year-old at the dinner table.

Although sparse, the usual suspects were in evidence, a hatch of small, light-colored mayflies, floating on the water’s surface, then lifting off, oh so daintily.  This event was not lost on the trout.  I tied the #18 sakasa kebari-style white fly, applying floatant just to the hackle so that the thread body rode more or less vertical below the film,  and cast within inches of the boulder’s upstream edge, allowing it to establish its drift four of five feet until reaching that indentation guarded by the trout.  To trigger a strike, the fly must literally float within an inch of the rockface.  After a few casts, I was able to hit that sweet spot, and he STRUCK!  Reflexively I yanked the fly from his mouth.  Damn!  This trout will not be fooled twice, as a number of subsequent perfect casts proved.  Nobody home.

Continuing to fish the same fly, I picked off a number of less educated rainbows.  The appeal of this fly seemed to differ little from the parachute style I usually employ.

Tastes Just Like the Parachute

Later in the day, I returned to the Boulder Pool.  Attaching a #18 Deer Hair Caddis, I cast again to the rock.  Good drift, good drift, here we go, BAM!  He took it.  Time to go.

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Candace Bergen and the Rolling Stones

There’s a game we fly anglers who pursue trout like to play:  “If you could fish only one fly, what would it be?”  A fun but futile debate because, of course, the choice of fly is entirely subjective, informed by the water you usually fish, perhaps the fly you enjoy tying, the aesthetics of a particular fly, our maybe what you’ve had success fishing and now have confidence in.  It’s like arguing who is the best rock band in history (the Rolling Stones, of course) or time’s most beautiful woman (Candace Bergen).

No surprise here, but my choice would be the parachute Adams.  Probably no other fly is so versatile.  I can fish it dry as a mayfly; I can trim the tail and fish it dry as a caddis; or I can sink it in a plunge pool or riffle, fishing it “drowned.”  A close second, however, would be the “white fly,” Albus musca tenkarambassadori.  On my homewater, Spring Creek, almost every day of the year I can count on a hatch of small mayflies, sometimes sparse, sometimes of blizzard proportions.  Only the size of the fly changes, synchronized with the seasons.  I tie this fly in a parachute style in sizes 16 through 26, in spring employing sizes 18 or 20, progressing to perhaps a #16 in summer, and in fall beginning again with smaller sizes until, in the dead of winter, I’m using a #24 or #26. 

Although parachute dries can be a little daunting at first to the novice flytier, this is really not a difficult tie.  The only materials you’ll need are a hook, white Antron yarn for the wingpost, white thread, and the lightest cream rooster hackle that you can find.  I used to dub the bodies of the larger sizes (say #16 or 18) with cream dubbing, using only thread for the bodies of the smaller flies.  Lately I’ve been just using thread for the bodies of the larger flies also, and the trout do not seem to care.  Generally for sizes 16 and 18 I’ll use size 6 Unithread, size 8 thread for the 20s and 22, and size 12 for the 24s and 26s.

The last time I was sitting at the vise, tying the white fly, it occurred to me to tie a couple in the sakasa kebari style, using just white thread and hackle feather.  My plan is to apply floatant to the hackle, creating sort of a Klinkhamer, then, at the end of the drift, pulling the fly under and twitching it.  I’m going fishing soon, and I’ll keep you posted…

white fly, parachute


white fly, sakasa kebari variant


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Old Flies

I found them again when I was searching for something in the basement, a box of old trout flies that I had put there for safekeeping.

A few years ago, a workman doing a home improvement project for me recognized my love of flyfishhing.  He explained that his grandfather had been an avid flyfisher and flytier and that he had a box of old flies his grandfather had created, probably in the 1930s and 1940s.  He offered them to me, but I declined, arguing that they were his family heirlooms, mementos mori.  Well, he was persistent and brought them to me, assuring me that no one in his family fished.

When I got a good look at the flies what I discovered was an assortment of very workmanlike flies, dries and wets.  More than mere trout flies, these were totems, talismans, invested with the tyer’s craft and creativity, each whip-finished with hope. I couldn’t help feel that, although the tier was long deceased, that a bit of him or of his spirit lived yet in these objects.  That  a person’s legacy is not necessarily some grand accomplishment:  publishing a novel, solving a scientific mystery, but perhaps some seemingly small thing:  a poem to one’s spouse, a photograph, or a few trout flies.

Now the dilemma I faced was whether to fish these (or some of these) flies.  Afterall, that was the tier’s intent, surely.

I Found This Old Fly "Irresistible"


I won’t pretend that I fooled a trout on the first cast with the old fly.  That would have been too Hollywood.  The stream was a bit high and murky from the previous day’s rain, and the trout were in no mood to look up.   But eventually, as with any fly, really, with persistence I found that one trout who was searching for just such an offering and took it immediately in a fast riffle, without guile. The old fly still had its mojo!  And I felt that somehow some kind of circle had been closed.

He Did, Too



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“Rise Rings & Rhododendrons”

Fly angling, of course, is a pastime of endless variety, whether you fish tenkara or not.  Even tenkara, as we’ve discovered, has many “colors.”  But, if you are a tenkarafisher, I’d venture to guess that you are, like me, perhaps primarily a small stream angler.  As stalkers of small water, we recalibrate our expectations regarding the size of our quarry.  Generally we must be (and are) content with catching smaller fish, not that we wouldn’t like to add another “notch” to our flyrods.

There is something inexplicably appealing to the intimacy of small streams and creeks.  Fishing becomes almost just an excuse to spend time in these surroundings.  This point was driven home to me so forcefully three years ago, when my wife and I spent a week in the Smoky Mountains camping, fishing, and hiking.   I had not been to the Smokies since I was a young child, which is to say really never, because my recollections of the park had become blurred by the intervening decades.

I was simply blown away.  The streams we fished in the park (the Little River, Deep Creek, the Oconaluftee, and others) were so unexpectedly beautiful that I felt I could contentedly spend the remainder of my angling life just wading these waters.  The singing, sparkling, cascading clear water, the absolute green fecundity of the surrounding forest, the birdsong, the promise of black bear, the filtered sunlight …

As I mentioned in an earlier post titled “Guides,” our Smoky Mountain fishing experience was incalculably enhanced by the day on the Little River we spent with Ian Rutter.  Ian and his wife Charity are proprietors of RandR Flyfishing in Townsend, TN, and guide in the Smokies, Tennesee tailwaters, and annually in Yellowstone.  Ian and Charity are also accomplished photographers and authors, which brings me to their book, “Rise Rings & Rhododendrons.”  I would have purchased this book if it had simply been a book of photographs, so compelling are they.  These photos capture the aspects of these mountain streams enumerated above with such artistry that they truly become a drug for a small stream angler’s psyche.  I cannot tire of viewing these photos.  But wait, there’s a bonus.  The essays that complete this work are evocative and informative and truly give one a sense of what it’s like to fish these special streams.

Please visit www.randrflyfishing.com and purchase this book.


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Thin Blue Lines, Revisited

Small Stream Reflections has quickly become one of my favorite fishing blogs.  The author, Brk Trt, is a wonderful photographer and essayist, and he vicariously takes us along to many beautiful small brook trout streams in his native Northeast.  Recently he posted an essay, “Thin Blue Lines,” in which he describes the angler’s obsession with finding new water (at least to him), poring intensely over topographical maps, formulating a fishing expedition with the same precision as a military campaign.

When I study these maps the


thin blue lines

and contour lines

 tea leaves

to be divined

by an angler’s feverish mind.

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