Monday, April 13, 2020

Spring 2020 Issue of Tenkara Angler Magazine Is Live!

The Spring 2020 issue of Tenkara Angler Magazine went live this morning!  Many, many thanks goes out to our editor Mike Agneta, for his years of hard work on this publication!  Mike's contribution to the tenkara community has been immense.  I'd also like to send a big shout out to my fellow contributors, Rory Glennie, Bob Long, Jr., Jason Klass, Matt Sment, Steven Maichak, Chris Stewart, Alan Luecke, Jerry Tanner, and David West Beale.

Be sure to check out my article entitled "Social Distancing", a chronicle of a long walk in a tiny canyon.  Happy reading!

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  Full retail on the original Canyons (which have been replaced by the Canyon II) was right at the very affordable price of $65.00, and that price held for nearly the entire time Frogg Toggs made the original Canyons.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...