Thursday, April 9, 2020

Gear I Use: Frogg Toggs Canyon Hip Waders



The end of a great day of fishing in the canyons, wearing my Frogg Toggs Canyon hip waders!

I fish small water a LOT!  I guide small water a LOT!  A good pair of lightweight "non-chest waders" are a must, and the Frogg Toggs Canyon hip waders are as close to perfect as you can get.

Here's just a bit of information to qualify my opinion on these waders.  I've been fly fishing backcountry streams for about 40 years now, and I've had a lot of time to test just about every wader available.  When it comes to lightweight hip waders, the field really narrows.  I discounted pant waders right off the bat a number of years ago, simply because they made moisture management very difficult, and I found I seldom needed the extra protection from my crotch up to my waist.  So, lightweight hip waders were what I really needed to use.

The Canyon hippers drying in the sun after a long day of guiding.

Frogg Toggs has been been making the Canyon stockingfoot hip waders for a number of years, and as soon as they started producing them I got a pair and began testing them.  I also bounced them off their closest competitor, Chota, which is a great hipper too.  For a number of reasons, which I'll explain below, I've chosen the Frogg Toggs, and I'm now on my fourth pair of them.

First and foremost, I really like the durability versus cost of the Frogg Toggs.  Full retail on the original Canyons (which have been replaced by the Canyon II) was right at the very affordable price of $65.00, and that price held for nearly the entire time Frogg Toggs made the original Canyons.  I've found that I can spend more than 300 days on the water in a pair of them until the feet start leaking, or the gravel guard simply disintegrates.  That's 300 days of hiking more than wading, backpacking with them on, and hard use.  They've simply taken all of the abuse I've thrown their way and kept on going.  I've broken tree branches over a bent knee while processing firewood.  I've knelt on sand, gravel, and dirt.  I've wiped greasy, dirty hands on them.  I've hiked hundreds of miles in them.  In short, I hammered them and they stood up to hard use, especially the feet, which is the Achilles heel of all waders.

Comfortable fit and open-tops make moisture management easy.

Second, I like the light weight of the Canyon hippers.  My pair in size small weighs just 16 ounces, and bundles up about the size of a large loaf of bread.  When I'm hiking in hip waders for miles every day, every ounce counts, and these waders waders don't slow me down.  About a week or so ago I backpacked the entire length of a 30-mile canyon wearing the Canyon hippers, and I was very glad they didn't weigh any more than they do.

One reason I chose the Frogg Togg Canyon hip waders over the Chota is that the Canyons are more open at the top, and that really helps with moisture management.  I guide in hot canyons all summer, and I get really sweaty inside any waders I wear.  Having an open leg design lets moist, hot air out of the wader.  It won't eliminate clammy legs, but it sure helps.  I've found the open leg design doesn't hinder my ability to wade, since I'm on small water and it isn't all that deep.  Yes, I do have to be careful not to wade the deepest pools, but I wouldn't wade into those even if I had chest waders on.

I contacted Frogg Toggs customer service recently, and they were very helpful in answering my questions about the material the legs are made of.  After talking to Frogg Toggs, it's apparent the four-ply waterproof-breathable material has a nylon facing, but beyond that they were reluctant to disclose their proprietary material, and I totally respect that.  What I do know about the four-ply material is that it is extremely durable, and it has withstood abuse from me that most anglers will not subject it to.  The durability vs. weight is very good with these waders.  The stocking feet are pretty standard 4mm double taped neoprene, and I've found they last a good long time.  I am 5'7" tall, have a 30" inseam, and wear a size 8 wading boot.  I found the size small Canyon hippers fit my feet just fine, with no extra bootie material to deal with.



Breaking stove wood over my knee...these waders are very durable!

The quality, fit, and finish of the Canyon hippers is good.  The belt straps at the top of each leg is made of nylon webbing with a standard 1" Fastex style buckle.  I've never had the belt straps fail, and only had one buckle break in all of the years I've been wearing Canyon hippers.  If there's one point of failure, it's the bootlace hook on the front of the gravel guard.  I've broken several of those hooks off over the years, but they really aren't necessary anyway, since the elastic on the bottom of the gravel guard keeps it snug and doesn't let sand or gravel pass through.

The original version has been replaced by the Canyon II hipper, which has gray leg material and comes in at $95.00 retail (the recently imposed tariffs necessitated the price increase).  Otherwise, it's the same reliable, lightweight wader as the original.  If you're a highly mobile (meaning you hike a lot in waders) fly angler who frequents small water and appreciates a very durable, lightweight, and reasonably priced hip wader, you can do no better than the Canyon wader from Frogg Toggs.     

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Evolution of a Tenkara Nymphing Line

A half-dozen Tactical Tenkara Nymphing (TTN) lines, ready for action!


Five years ago I designed two tenkara lines.  It was a long time coming, and it happened after considerable amount of testing, knot-tying, material sourcing, line builds, re-testing, and more re-testing.  It was worth it.  Here’s the story of one of them.

The backstory:  I discovered tenkara, or as I like to say, tenkara discovered me, in 2009.  I was caught in the uptake created by two men…Daniel Galhardo and Ryan Jordan.  Both were tenkara anglers and lightweight backpackers, and both immediately earned my respect and attention.  I’ve often talked about how the real tenkara hook for me was backpacking, and between Daniel and Ryan, and the tenkara rod they collaborated on, the TUSA/Backpacking Light Hane, there was no looking back.  At that time, the only line options I was aware of were furled nylon lines and fluorocarbon level lines.  The first tenkara line I ever cast was a tapered, furled nylon line.  There were a few things it did well for me, and many things it did not.  In 2010, I started casting fluorocarbon level line, which gave me the advantage of much less line surface area, which in turn collected a lot less water.  The water-weighted belly in the furled line was gone, and it was considerably easier to keep the line off the water.  For several years, level line, especially the 3.5 diameter, was my mainstay.
Tenkara nymphing on the Uncompahgre River tailwater in southwest Colorado.

In early summer 2012 I became one of the first professional tenkara guides in Colorado.  Some of the water I ended up guiding on was a stretch of technical tailwater that held huge cutthroats and browns, and some respectable rainbow trout.  All of these fish received nearly constant pressure during the summer months, and I discovered the secret to catching them and getting my clients on them, was getting flies, especially nymph rigs, to the exact depth where the fish were holding in feeding lanes.  Western fly anglers could use strike indicators, with adjustment along the leader, to achieve this.  They were also adding and adjusting weight to their nymph rigs.  This had been standard procedure with western nymph fishing for years.

I initially tried fishing traditional kebari on that tailwater with limited, VERY limited, success.  I simply wasn’t getting my flies down to the trout, and those trout wouldn’t move much to take a fly.  I switched over to proven western nymph patterns, mainly a double nymph rig, and started adjusting my split shot weight.  I even ran a drop shot rig.  Once I found the right depth…BAM!  The light bulb started flickering above my head!  This was working…sort of!

Step two was dialing in my depth.  Once I found the depth in the water column where the fish were holding and feeding, I had a hard time staying at that depth from one drift to another without the aid and bulk of a strike indicator.  I did have a fluoro level line with alternating colors in knotted segments.  Those alternating colors helped, but it still really wasn’t enough.  I came home from a summer of guiding in southwest Colorado to my home water, and on one particularly gloomy, cloudy day on a huge, dark green bend pool on the Arkansas River, the light bulb stopped flickering and flashed like fireworks!  That’s the day my Depth Dots and my weight-forward design came into action.  The Depth Dots gave me a foolproof way to maintain consistency in drift depth, and they gave me another “spotter” along the span of the line to keep track of my drift above the surface of the water, which was effective in low light conditions.

An exclusive feature of the TTN, the Depth Dot.

I came home from that day in Bighorn Sheep Canyon and started making prototype nymphing lines.  As a traditional bowhunter, I also took what I knew about the efficiency and power of the weight-forward handmade arrows I had been making for years, and I applied that to my nymphing line.  A weight-forward-of-center arrow carries much more penetration power to its target, and by applying that theory to the 12’ span of a tenkara line I found that I had weight-forward tapered line that could deliver anything, from a single traditional kebari all the way up to a weighted double nymph rig, with finesse and accuracy that required nothing more than a slow, methodical arching cast forward.  In short, the weight-forward taper worked.

Since then, I spent another year testing taper, line diameter, and line length.  I finally arrived at a line that worked really well, and accomplished everything I had set out to do.  After testing the Tactical Tenkara Nymphing line on the Arkansas River freestone right next to my home in Canon City, Colorado, I started traveling and fishing it elsewhere.  In 2016, my friend Shawn and I made a trip to the Alaskan interior, and the TTN line was very effective on trophy arctic grayling and sockeye salmon.  The next year in 2017, I made one of several trips east to the Driftless in southwest Wisconsin, and again the TTN really shined on the crystal clear little spring creeks in the coulees.  I’ve also taken the TTN to challenging tailwater fisheries on the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers in Colorado with great success.  In 2017 and 2018 I returned to Alaska, the Bristol Bay region, to target huge rainbow trout, and again the TTN got the job done.

Hooked up with a trophy arctic grayling on the Tangle River, Alaska.


 
Running a double nymph rig through the tailout of a huge pool on the Copper River, Alaska.
Another solid rainbow in southwest Alaska, caught with a TTN!
Nymping a bend pool at home in the canyons with a TTN.

I now produce the TTN lines exclusively for Royal GorgeAnglers, where I also guide tenkara trips.  It’s truly a blessing to guide for a fly shop and outfitter that has provided me an opportunity to offer these lines to the public.   I really enjoy having total control over the production of the lines, since I hand craft each and every one of them myself.  Without outsourcing the production, I can keep a close eye on quality, and that means a lot to me.  I also enjoy having a direct connection with customers who have questions about the lines, or want to share stories or photos of the lines in action.
 
In short, this has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding projects I’ve ever undertaken!  I’m looking forward to many more days on the water with a TTN, nymphing with a fixed-line rod!   

Here's a video on my You Tube channel focused on tenkara nymphing...


    

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Gear I Use: DRAGONtail Tenkara Komodo

The DRAGONtail Komodo comes with a handy rod sock and a sturdy rod tube.

I know, I can almost hear your thoughts..."no...please...not another tenkara rod review!".  Well, this isn't really THAT, it's more like "here's the gear I use, and why".  As with nearly every piece of gear in my arsenal, and I have a LOT of gear, there are nearly always other options that will do the same job.  The vision I have for the "Gear I Use" series of blog posts is to simply showcase certain pieces of gear that I find useful and let you decide beyond that.

Enter the DRAGONtail Tenkara Komodo.  I'm a sucker for small mountain water and the trout that live there.  I've been fishing this kind of water for well over 40 years.  First, let me qualify what I mean by "small mountain water".  In Colorado alone there are thousands of miles of streams that are from 12" to 25 feet wide and flow anywhere from 5 to 50 cubic-feet-per-second.  In those streams live brook, brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout from 6" to 16" long.  That's magical water, and that's where a rod like the Komodo shines!

Typical "small water" in the canyons in southern Colorado.

Typical "small water" in southwest Wisconsin's Driftless.

Small water isn't confined, of course, to mountain streams in Colorado.  There is similar water, although lower gradient, in the Driftless, Appalachians, Ozarks, Adirondacks, Black Hills, Inter-mountain West, Sierras, Alaska, and countless other places.  As my good friend, Alan Luecke, mentioned on the recent eposide of my Tenkara Tracks podcast, there's even small water alongside interstate highways in the middle of Kansas.

So, back the Komodo.  The Komodo is a lightweight, compact 320cm/275cm single zoom rod, which means it has two fishable lengths.  Those metric measurements roughly equate to a 10.5ft/9ft rod.  The Komodo weighs in at 2.9 ounces on my venerable Escali scale.  The comparatively short cork handle has a nice double contour with a defined waist that fits my hand well.  The bottom end of the handle also has a cork/rubber composite accent just above the bottom cap that's a really nice touch.  I love the stealthy, matte black finish DRAGONtail puts on their rods (Hellbender, Shadowfire), and the Komodo has the same tactical finish with some muted, matte finish red accents on all but the top two sections.  There's an industry standard red lilian, sans swivel, at the tip, and the artsy wooden top plug has a handy loop of nylon cord attached.





Any tenkara rods I use have to be able to do a few things really well.  In addition to casting a simple level line and traditional kebari, my rods also have to be able to cast a lightly weighted multi-fly nymph rig.  They have to be able to cast a dry fly or dry/dropper rig with a floating line.  They have to have a little spine, so to speak.  5:5 mid-flex rods are out.  All of the rods I use a lot are either 6:4 or 7:3 tip flex rods.  It takes a tip flex rod to fish the way I do.

The Komodo will do all of that!  Obviously, it'll perfectly cast a 2.5 or 3.5 level line with four feet of tippet and an unweighted sakasa kebari.  It does that really well.  However, that only accounts for a fraction of what I do with my rods.  This past spring I took my Komodo out into the canyons with one of my 11-foot Tactical Tenkara Nymphing (TTN) lines, four feet of 5X fluorocarbon tippet, and a pair of nymphs...a #18 Flashback Pheasant Tail with a #20 black RS2 trailing behind on 6X tippet.  I had installed two #4 split shot about 9" in front of the top fly.  As a small rod at the upper end of 6:4 flex, this little rod cast this nymph rig VERY well at its fully extended 320cm length.  I rarely fish a zoom rod at its shorter length if I have a choice, and I really never had to zoom it down.  This setup accounted for dozens upon dozens of rainbow and brown trout in my canyons between March and June of this year.  The Komodo had the spine to cast a nymph rig well, but still had the sensitivity to feel those subtle takes.  I really couldn't have asked it to do more!

Nymphing a bend in the creek with the Komodo...southern Colorado.

Another task my tenkara rods must be up for is fishing western dry fly patterns or even dry/dropper rigs.  To do this, I designed a floating line that combines small diameter, low-profile, no-stretch material with the most buoyancy possible.  My Tenkara Floating Line (TFL) meets those requirements, and the Komodo can cast dries and dry/droppers quite well, as long as you keep the fly sizes matched appropriately with the small rod.  I built a special 11-foot TFL line for it, and headed to southwest Wisconsin's Driftless with a boxful of Rich Osthoff's  #16 brown elk caddis patterns, as well as a couple dozen of the late Larry Kingery's #16 Better Foam Caddis.  While fishing in the Driftless, I even added a #18 Guide's Choice Hare's Ear as a dropper under the adult foam caddis.  The capable Komodo, with its strong 6:4 flex, handled all of that well, even with a solid breeze.  When I found myself fishing really small water choked up with overhanging trees and tall grass, I zoomed the Komodo down and found that it fished quite well at its shorter 275cm length.  It did require that I switch to a shorter 10-foot section of level line to make casting and line control during the drift feasible.

I stopped worrying about small tenkara rods handling relatively big fish a long time ago.  The biggest fish I've caught with this rod to date is a nice 16-inch brown trout from the Driftless, but I've also caught many 12-inch rainbows in my southern Colorado canyons, and those 'bows can really fight, and there's more current here than in the Driftless.  I'm sure this rod could handle any 16-inch trout, maybe even a bit bigger.

My biggest catch so far on the Komodo.  Southwest Wisconsin.
Another Driftless brown.
One of dozens of brown and rainbow trout caught with the Komodo in the canyons in southern Colorado.

Lastly, the Komodo offers a LOT of bang for the buck!  I greatly admire that in any piece of gear, whether it's a knife, a pair of boots, a rifle, or a tenkara rod.  It's the same reason I drive Toyota pickups and Subaru cars.  DRAGONtail Tenkara has offered up a very capable small water rod with the Komodo, and it's $119.99 price tag puts it well under the competition.  This fact impressed me so much that I recommended the Komodo as the small water tenkara rod that we stock at Royal Gorge Anglers, as well as the one I use with my clients my guided tenkara trips in the canyons.

This compact, strong rod is a winner in my book!  I'm looking forward to using it on guide trips and on my own fishing adventures on small water.  Great job, DRAGONtail!



     


Friday, June 14, 2019

Tenkara Tracks Podcast is Live!

Here's a quick blog post to let you know the Tenkara Tracks Podcast is LIVE!  A big "thanks" goes out to all of my guests on the inaugural episode, "Trout, Beer, and Cheese Curds"...Shawn Larson, Dave Noll, Matt Sment, Zoan Kulinski, and Alan Leucke.  It was a pleasure traveling to the Driftless and hanging out with all of you!  I'm sure looking forward to it next year!

You can access the Tenkara Tracks Podcast HERE.


Thursday, June 6, 2019

A Splendid Spring!



Spring and fall are my favorite seasons here in the canyons and the southern Colorado Mountains I call home.  This spring was one of cool weather, lots of snow in the mountains, tenkara in the local canyons, and one of the most perfect turkey hunts I've ever had!

I started poking up into my canyons as soon as the weather permitted this spring.  One day in February I hiked down into one particular canyon with about a foot of snow on the ground to find miles and miles of the creek frozen completely over.  It's always comforting to know that below that ice in the deep bend pools there are brown and rainbow trout holed up for the winter in their near dormant state, waiting to see the sun slant through warming spring water.

Hiking down into the canyons on a cold, snowy day in February.

Once the ice melted as the spring sun rose above the canyon walls, I started fishing.  This was in early March.  I was always fishing double nymph rigs then, with a lightly weighted baetis/midge setup.  As usual, this was all done with a tenkara rod.

Guiding one of my favorite clients in the canyons in mid-March.

I've always said that April/May and October/November are my favorite months in the canyons.  This April was superb, and I even started to see some #18 tan caddis come off around the middle of the month.  Once that happened I switched to my spring nymphing rig, consisting of a #18 caddis pupa and a #20 black RS2.  This combo worked on dozens of fish during the month of April, and I continued to cast that rig with my Tactical Tenkara Nymphing (TTN) line with a newly acquired Dragontail Komodo rod.  That rod proved to be a really nice small water rod this spring, and worked very well with my line and lightly weighted double nymph rig.  Despite the fact that I saw caddis adults, I didn't see many rising trout at all in April, and only fished an adult dry caddis pattern a few times with limited success.  I also fished a #20 adult blue winged olive a few times too, with the same limited success.

One of my favorite bend pools on a warm April day.

April has long been a favorite month in the woods as well.  I've been hunting wild turkeys for over 30 years, at first in the longbeard mecca of northern Missouri, and later in my home state of Colorado.  I had recently gotten permission on a large chunk of private land in northern Fremont County, a 40-minute drive from home.  I was very familiar with this area and the surrounding public land, and the addition of my new hunting spot was a godsend.  I can't express enough thanks to the landowner for his generosity and hospitality.  After some initial scouting which resulted in locating a good number of birds, I made a plan to take Friday, April 19th, off from work.  Awake at 3:30 AM, I was on the road by 4:00.  Forty minutes later I parked by the old barn, threw three decoys over my shoulder, grabbed my shotgun, and walked a half-mile north.  It was bone-chilling cold and windy...not exactly ideal for turkey hunting at 8,500 feet in the Colorado mountains!  I set up in the corner of an old oat field leftover from last year.  I was tucked up under a cluster of Gambel's oak, with the two hens and one jake decoy in the corner of the field, about 30 yards in front of me.  After hitting my owl hooter a few times over the next hour, I failed to elicit any gobbles from the cottonwoods down by the creek.  At around 6:00 am I spotted several hens through my binoculars, scratching in the dirt about 200 yards away.  Then I saw the tips of a fan!  I started yelping with my old slate call, and worked those birds up to my position.  Once the five hens and big gobbler were within about 40 yards the gobbler finally realized my jake decoy was a threat.  He stuck his head out and ran straight for the jake decoy.  That big gobbler fell to a hot load of copper-plated #6, and by 6:30 am my hunt was over.  In every sense, this was one of my most perfect and best turkey hunts ever.  It was one of those times when the planets align, the gobbler comes running to your call and decoy, and goes down hard.  I can really only remember one other hunt, many years ago with my good friend, Randy, when things came together any better!

Scouting for turkeys the weekend before spring season opened.
Tools of the trade.  
A good score on a solid gobbler at 6:30 AM.

Lots of really good breast, leg, and thigh meat on this bird!
We roasted these breast fillets for Mother's Day dinner.
An absolutely perfect hunt!

May arrived with anticipation!  The flows in the canyons were much better than they were last year, and the sweet spot of 25-35 cubic-feet-per-second became a weekly event that lasted several days.  The browns and rainbows that had been stacked up in the deepest holes, covered with several inches of ice all winter, started to move and spread out in the bend pools.  As of today, the fishing has only gotten better each week.  There are still very few blue winged olive or caddis hatches, but around 9:00 am each day there's a sporadic BWO hatch.  Regardless, the browns and rainbows are eating #18 beadhead pheasant tails and #20 mercury flashback RS2s with abandon.

Home.
A classic bend pool in the canyons.
My favorite place!
Another bend pool with a classic bubble line!
Cholla cactus and Rocky Mountain Lupine.

Rocky Mountain Lupine.  One of my favorite spring flowers.  When the lupine blooms, the spring fishing is the best!

More spring blooming wildflowers1

Spring gold!
A nice spring rainbow from the canyons!
...and an energetic brown too!
 May also brought the fourth annual Tenkara Wisconsin Driftless Campout on my birthday weekend.  My good friend and frequent traveling partner, Shawn Larson, and I flew to Minneapolis on May 16th and got home late on the night of May 19th.  There will be much more on that on what will be the first ever episode of Tenkara Tracks Podcast in the next month or so!  You'll have to tune in, and I think you'll be entertained and will learn a few things by listening to the show.  I'll have several guests join me who attended the campout!


Celebrating my birthday at Denver International Airport with a liquid breakfast!
32 wonderful tap handles at Union 32 Craft House in Minneapolis.

Union 32's wonderful Black Dog porter.
The welcome party at Esofea Park, between Coon Valley and Viroqua, Wisconsin.
Chef Dave, always at the ready!  One of our two most excellent camp hosts!
Chowing down on steaks and potatoes in camp!
Can you say "yum"?
Dave rustling up breakfast.
Zoan's really cool A-frame pop-up.
Some of the tents in camp.  Esofea Branch is right behind camp, and has great fishing!
Shawn Larson and I.  Trout do not have a chance.
Just another day in the Driftless.  Following the Amish neighbors down the road.
Shawn, fishing a cut bank on the West Fork of the Kickapoo River.

...and a hookup!
It was a good day at Duck Egg!
Another really good brown from Duck Egg.
Working our way upstream in Bohemian Valley.
This is where a short tenkara rod really shines!
Many possibilities!
Making my way back down to the Jeep after a full day of fishing.
Our home away from home for the weekend.
Inside our yurt.
One of the craft breweries we found in the Driftless.  This one was special!
Here's to the Driftless!  Home of trout, beer, and cheese curds!
Hanging out at Legacy in downtown (don't blink) Coon Valley, Wisconsin.

My good friend and client, Alan, on Esofea Branch.
Rob Worthing, working a bend pool on Esofea Branch.
Jeff, working his way back downstream on Esofea Branch, not far from camp.

We had a late, cool, wet spring here in Colorado.  As of today, June 6th, the runoff is finally starting.  My local canyons have gone from the golden, perfect flow of 30 cfs to just over a hundred.  The headwater mountain range of those streams in the canyons have snow water equivalent of over 360 percent!  It'll be a great runoff, even if I can't fish the canyons for a while.  A big runoff will scour out some of the really good holes that filled in with sand after last summer's flash flooding.  The canyons, and consequently the trout, will be better because of it.

I hope you had a splendid spring, and here's looking forward to a stunning summer!