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.

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!