Monday, April 14, 2014

Biology, bendos, and breeding

Despite fishing being a relatively small part of it, I had a relatively eventful weekend on the river. On Saturday afternoon, we met a flyfisherman and biologist who gave us a crash course on local insect identification and collection. Once a month one of us will go out and collect all identifiable mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly nymphs and adults and send them off for identification and entry into a database. I've always had somewhat of an interest in entemology as it relates to fly fishing, but never pursued it until this year. I recently bought the book "Handbook of Hatches" by Dave Hughes, and am finding it accessible, entertaining, and informative, but there is no substutite to turning over rocks and rooting through streamside vegetation and having a biologist eagerly identify your findings. It's been many decades since I spent this much time looking for bugs in a body of water and I have to say, the novelty hasn't worn off, and I felt myself transported to the marsh of my youth, collecting water beetles and tadpoles. I wasn't the only one, the rest of the guys seemed to have almost as much fun as they do when they're fishing. If you ever get the chance to examine insect life as it relates to the river you fish under the tutelage of an expert, take it!

Beautiful day on the bank

Some literature specific to Swiss mayflies and stoneflies

Examining our catch
Mayfly nymph

Over lunch the next day I finally found the time to take out my old Hardy JET 6 weight for a few tests casts. I threw on an Orvis BBS reel and headed down to the river with the intention to do some nymphing. That plan went out the window as I spotted multiple rising trout. I tied on a dry, and got to work. Unfortunately, the rod and I didn't quite mesh. The line I had on the reel, although it was a WF6, was a line I'd never been particularly happy with and keep meaning to replace. In addition, I really think this rod might be better served with a WF7, I needed to have far too much line out in order to properly load the rod. As if that weren't enough, it was quite windy and the wind was coming from the direction of my casting side. In short, I found it impossible to make a passable presentation, much less a delicate one. Still, fish aren't nearly as smart as we make them out to be, so in short order I missed one strike, then another, and then finally had a foot long brown on the end of the rod. Now, finally, I felt like I could enjoy the rod. Fighting a fish on it was thoroughly enjoyable, but I think I'll relegate this rod to streamer/nymphing duty.

Hardy JET 9 foot 6 weight

And finally, later that afternoon, I took my kids to see the spawning activity of the Common Nase, a migratory fish in the carp family that's in danger of extinction in Switzerland, and has been protected since 2007. Our river is one of the few and best remaining spawning grounds for this fish, which can grow to 20 inches long. Switzerland, like many other European countries, suffers from an addiction to dam building and hydroelectric power, and this fish is a reliable indicator of the health of a river so we're always happy to see them. Amazingly, they always pick the exact same section in which to spawn, only a few hundred feet long, affectionately referred to as "Nase Curve" as the section lies along an undercut, curving section of bank. I tried to get some photos, but the sun wasn't quite right and my reflexes weren't fast enough to catch the fish when they broke the water.

Spawning Common Nase
One of the few splashes I was able to catch on film
Sometimes, you can spend an very enjoyable weekend on a river with a hardly any fishing. It's certainly not optimal though...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Yasuyuki Kabuto of Kabuto Rods

When I profiled the workshops of various rod builders a few months back, more than one of the featured builders mentioned that they'd love to hear input from a universally respected Japanese rod builder and blank designer, Yasuyuki Kabuto, of Kabuto Rods.

Every one of the rodmakers I've profiled in the past regularly use Kabuto blanks for their work, and they're one of the most highly regarded glass blanks available. Kab is well known for his stunning stacked bamboo reel seats, and his friendly nature, to which I can attest!

(Translating the questions and answers from English to Japanese and back into English was a pretty long process, so any mistakes or unclear formulations are solely my fault!)

Yasayuki Kabuto

How long have you been rod building and do you have a day job as well?

I started rod building in 1999. The first rod I used was SAGE 9’0”#8.
I work in real estate business during the day, so I get to work on rod building
after I put my kids to sleep, 21:00~1:00. Since I'm not a full time rod builder, the
amount of production is limited. I barely have free time of my own and sometimes do
wish I had more time to enjoy a beer, watch TV and relax. But knowing the fact that there are customers waiting for a rod, and when I receive a letter of thanks, that's what motivates me and keeps building.

Do you work from home?

Yes, I do work from home. The room I'm using once belonged to my daughter,
and now my 5 year old daughter is begging me for have a room of her own, so I may have to move my work space to even a smaller room. The Japanese housing environment is as small as a rabbit house, so I adore a big working environment. But the good thing about a small environment is that (almost) everything is within reach!

What item on your bench sees the most use? The least?

The item I use most is my lathe, for grips and reel seats. The lathe I'm  using is made by Sherline from the US. You can't get them here in Japan, so I ordered from US. The only lathes you can get here are big, heavy and expensive. Therefore I choose not to use them.

Another item I use is a specific paint for blank painting. I use dipping when painting a blank.

I hardly use my wrapping bench,as I currently wrap by hand.. One you get used to it, it is so much faster than using a tool. I recommend hand wrapping because you can do that even by sitting on a couch.

What’s your favorite feature of your work space? And the least favorite?

My most favorite in my working environment is the climate. Hokkaido – where I live, the temperature is between 22 -25 °C (72-77 °F) and humidity is between 50~60% throughout the year.  The least favorite part is the size of  my shop– small.

Do you follow any specific routines or habits when working? Music, privacy,etc?

I prioritize safety when working. Besides being cautious when using tools, I also wear a mask when painting.  Secondly, I work quietly aso I don't wake my kids up during the night. I choose to work on the weekends when working on bamboo stacking.

I don’t listen to music. I feel that it's important to hear the sounds of the machines and tools when working.

Do you have any photos or posters on the walls to motivate or inspire you?

There is no space in my current work area, but if I move to a bigger space, I will be able to display more items.

Check out Kabuto Rods on Facebook and on the Web, and read about and see more of his work on the Fiberglass Flyrodders forum, and The Fiberglass Manifesto.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sometimes it all works out just like you'd hoped

Every fishing trip begins with hope. 99 times out 100, that hope isn't realized. But every so often, things work out just the way they're supposed to. Exactly the way you imagined and hoped they would. In my fishing life, this hasn't happened too often, only a few times come to mind.

The first time was in Southern California, on a multiday tuna trip. It was nighttime, we were drifting and there wasn't much happening. Most of the people were inside eating, and a few were standing outside smoking and drinking a beer, and no one was fishing. I caught a glimpse of a fin just outside the floodlights, so I grabbed my rod, hooked a sardine, and cast it out  directly in front of a 5 foot mako. The mako swallowed it with no hesitation, and it was at the boat a short while later, despite the lack of a wire leader. Exactly as I had pictured it.

The second, in Maine. I was visiting my mom, and wanted to get some fishing in. I don't remember how or why I chose to fish for stripers where the Ducktrap river enters Penobscot Bay, but that's where I ended up with high hopes and exactly zero experience in striper fishing. I brought my 8 weight fly rod, but the incoming tide was too strong to get the unweighted fly down, even with a sinking line. Fortunately I also had a saltwater spinning rod and a few frozen mackerel. I threw a chunk on a hook, cast it out, put it in freespool and a had a legal striper on the line in 30 seconds. Exactly as I had pictured it.

Then there was the third time, just a few days ago. I ran into a friend who told how he spotted a huge fish nymphing at the base of a waterfall the previous day, and subsequently hooked it, only to have the fish immediately jump and throw the hook. We walked back to the spot, and saw a few other nice sized trout, but nothing huge. Naturally, as any fisherman would be, I was consumed with thoughts of this fish. The next day, I rushed home after work and collected my gear while muttering a mix of apologies and thanks to my wife. Once I got there, there were some kids chucking rocks down into the pool below the waterfall.  They eventually got bored and moved on, and I cautiously made my way down the rocks to the base of the pool. With a self tied tungsten beaded hare's ear on my Epic 580 (I can't say enough good things about this rod), I cast out, and immediately caught a decent fish of 13 inches or so. Between the kids that had thrown rocks, and the commotion caused by landing this fish, I wasn't too confident about catching anything else. Two casts later, I was happy to be proven wrong. As soon as the indicator stopped, I set the hook and felt a big fish. After a few strong head shakes I saw a shadow, thinking it was a barbel, too big for a trout. I knew I was wrong when a beautiful, fat brown trout jumped and landed back in the water with a much deeper sounding splash than I'm used to. My heart immediately began racing, and I had to figure out a way to get the fish out of the deep channel he was in. My easiest option was the make it to other side of the river where the water was shallower and slower. I headed downstream a bit, and then across the river, my hip waders filling with freezing water as I made my way acrosst the channel. Four more jumps later, and the biggest trout I had ever caught was in my net. Scarred lips, the start of a nice kype, a beautiful, old fish. I never properly measured him, but when he was next to my rod, and curved in the net bag, he substantially exceeded the length from the butt to a wrap at 17 inches, a 20 inch fish for sure. A catch I'll never forget, and a perfect example of why I flyfish.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The intricate and expensive world of Salmon flies

I love everything about tying flies. The learning process, the incremental and visible improvements as you learn, the history of various patterns, the delicate and subtle differences in hooks and threads, and most of all, the materials. A beautiful cape, a partridge skin, a thick slab of deer fur, a mottled turkey feather...for me, they're one of the few remaining connections to a childhood spent in the woods of the northeastern US, a place I'm both physically and chronologically far removed from. And yet all the expensive and hard to find animal parts we might be used to in the world of trout flies pale in comparison to the breathtaking world of salmon flies.

With a history as rich and vibrant as the flies themselves, they are the epitome of fly tying, elevating the art to a whole new level of skill, artistry, and yes, expense. Handmade hooks with eyes made of gut. Incredibly rare and expensive feathers and furs.  While my conventional tying materials may harken back to a childhood in the rural US, the materials used for salmon flies are intertwined in the history of the last great empire, gathered from the furthest and most remote corners of the world to end up on the hook of a well-heeled fly fisherman in the British Isles.

One of the people who's beautiful salmon flies I see pop up often in my Facebook feed is Stuart Hardy, and he was kind enough to answer some questions:

 How long have you been fly tying, and how long have you been tying Salmon flies? 

 I have been tying for about 3 Years, and started with Salmon Flies. After a life in Adventure Sports I wanted something that would be relaxing, and something that I could do on my own...however my endless pursuit of rare materials has proved just as stressful at times.

What's your day job?

I spent half my life running an Adventure company around the world, but now I have somehow migrated into the world of People Development. I am a freelance Leadership and Change Consultant, working all over the world, with a hectic schedule of airports and hotels - but it does leave time to scan the internet for goodies.

Do you spend more time fishing, or more time tying? How many hours a week do you spend tying, roughly?

I spend much more time tying, and occasionally fish for trout locally to where I live in Staffordshire in the UK. I usually tie once a day when I am at home...which is not often at the moment.

When you tie, do you have a routine? Do you listen to music, work in small amounts at a time, or do you sit down for hours at a time?

I usually listen to Music, with a glass of wine...., and typically work all the way through without stopping, which might mean from making the hook to the finished item in a frame...A hook and fly normally takes me about 3-5 hours.

What's the cost of entry like for an aspiring Salmon fly tier? What are some tips you might have for someone who'd like to get started?

The best way to get started is to join one of the many forums, and learn from the experts...they will also point people in the right direction for materials. To start it is not expensive, but if you get serious it is becoming an expensive hobby due to the cost of rare feathers and hooks.

How do you acquire most of your materials? I noticed you posted some photos of tying materials purchased at auction, have you made any amazing finds?

I made my first big auction find which inspired me to look for more about 2 years ago...when I acquired about £4000 of vintage materials for a  paltry £76......since then I have had several others similar...and now I do not have to invest any more money I acquire materials and items by trading, and raising money by selling flies and hooks to spend on auctions. I probably have one of the largest collection of vintage salmon hooks in the UK now...maybe 7,000 hooks or so of all sizes and ages.

There is still stuff out there but it is getting harder and harder to find...I invest hours and hours and hours!

I noticed you also sell materials, some of which cost remarkable amounts for someone from the world of trout flies. What are some of the most expensive or rare materials that have passed through your hands?

I am lucky enough to have one of the only whole Western Tragopans in Europe at the moment, which is difficult to value...but certainly several thousands, I also have items that belonged to Kelson himself, and some contents of two other rare collections. I also found a case of  5 Cotingas this year which cost up to 1,200 each for only £600...all in all I have in my possession every rare material for tying classic salmon flies, mostly from the period except one...which I hope to have in the next weeks to make my set complete.

For me the collecting of materials has become as important as tying the flies themselves. As for my tying I am on a creative journey to establish my own style. I tie what I consider to be mostly 'Classic Freestyles'...that is Freestyle Flies..inspired by classic patterns...rather than extravagant artistic flies. It has taken several years, but I feel I have just started to do this...and I now get quite a few commissions to make flies to order from people that obviously like them. I find the discipline of tying pure classics too restrictive for me and it stifles my creativity.....some people take it so seriously it is almost like a 're-enactment' hobby....pretty soon they'll be tying flies wearing the same clothes as the older generation!

Above all it needs to be fun and creative for me....and if people also enjoy my work that is an added bonus..
Western Tragopan skin

More of Stuart Hardy's work can be seen (and ordered) on Facebook.

If you're interested in learning more about tying salmon flies, the Classic Fly Tying forum is a good place to start, as well as Ronn Lucas Sr.'s excellent guide to getting started with full dress flies.

Kiss the Water is an amazing film, available on iTunes, that delves into the fascinating story of one Megan Boyd, a woman who's flies were used by royalty, yet who never actually fished. A women who lived in solitude, perfecting her art for hours and hours a day, and famously refused an invitation to Buckingham palace because there was no one to look after her dog.

They probably won't do for the discriminating and experienced salmon fly tier, but for the rest of us, a pack of 25 classic style salmon hooks from Allen Fly Fishing for less than 7 bucks can't be beat. And since they have free international shipping on a wide selection of  hooks and beads, they're a favorite of mine!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Opening Day 2014

I didn't get to fish opening day, but I did find some time to head down to my fishing clubs' annual soup lunch on the banks of our river, along with my daughter. The sausages were good, the soup was even better, and watching my daughter casting with a friend was the highlight. Afterwards I heard that some friends of mine had done well on opening day, and I was itching to get on the river. But, with two small kids at home, and a meeting of yet another fly fishing club that very evening, it wasn't to be...

The loops could be a little tighter...;)


Everyone huddled around the soup kettle, trying to stay warm.

I hadn't made an appearance at the other fishing club in a long time. Other obligations make it very difficult to do so, but I think they're a fantastic organisation full of good people that organise some great events, and I wouldn't dream of letting my membership lapse just because I can't partake as often as I like. That'll change soon enough as the kids get older. I did enter a few photos in the annual contest though, and won a 50 buck gift certificate to a local fishing shop with the third place photo:

A brown trout in a small creek

I had to rush home after the meeting and wasn't able to enjoy the dinner they put on every year but it was nice to be able to stop by.

The next day, a little before noon, I arrived at the river to fish, Epic 580 in hand. I've had it for a few months now, but I've only ever been able to lawn cast it so I was excited about getting on the water. The water was high and wading was tiring. There was sporadic Baetis activity and brief windows of rising trout, I tied on a size 18 BWO and spent quite a bit of time casting to a rising trout next to a rock across a fast seam. After countless tries, I finally got him to take but blew the hook set in my eagerness. Another fish was rising a few yards downstream, and after a few attempts I got this one to take too. He was on for a few brief seconds, and then off. But having a fish on the Epic was different. I felt the throb all the way to the butt. Unfortunately, that was the closest I'd get to fish for the next few hours. I headed to the dam marking the top of our beat, and swung streamers all the way back home.

The dam that marks the uppermost border of out beat.

A deep run. Clearly fish holding, but I didn't have any luck.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Fred Paddock

When I posted a little profile of the workshops of a few rodmakers a while back, I was fortunate enough to be able to get some of the feedback from the featured rodmakers themselves. One of the things that stuck with me is that they all seemed to wish that I had included additional rodmakers, and one of the names that came up was Fred Paddock.

Fred took a long break from designing blanks and building rods, but recently decided to ease his way back into rodbuilding. He's not quite ready to offer blanks just yet, but who knows? When I see the enthusiasm around his "Lemon Drop" and "The One" blanks, I understand why glass rod aficionados are hoping for a second chance to get their hands on another one of his blanks. I'd certainly like to, and when I asked him about the possibility of reintroducing the Lemon Drop, he didn't rule it out. That's a start.

Lemon Drop

Lemon Drop

How long have you been rod building, and do you have a "day job" as well?  Do you work from home?

For fly rod building, the shop is from home.

 I have been building fly rods for almost 20 years now. Mostly fly rods freshwater and saltwater, I have build a lot of surf rods though... both fly and surf fishing are my favorites. I do have a day job, I'm a service engineer for a commercial and industrial mechanical (HVAC) company.

Recent Lamiglas build

In your old shop, what item on your bench saw the most use? The least?

Probably the lathe, cork, wood inserts for reel seats, and such. The mortising router seen its share of time too. Of course, the wrapping table and finish station gets a lot of time. The machine that sees the least is the hydraulic press. At one time, I was making my own snake guides. It was enjoyable to make every aspect of the rod, but making snake guides was not practical for me. The press is still around, but it won't see too much use. 

Recent Lamiglas build

What's your favorite feature of your old workspace? And the least favorite?

The favorite would be the dipping tank (cane rods), that was something I took my time with making and it turned out nicely. The least favorite was the lack of space... my old work area was always tight quarters. Blanks, components, tubes, etc. were stacked everywhere. It was a chore to setup each part of the builds. The lathe was always stationary, but the other tools had to get setup when needed. I usually built a group of rods at a time in order to save a little time. 

Recent Lamiglas build

Do you follow any specific routines or habits when working? Music, privacy, etc?

A cup of coffee before I start wrapping a rod. Other than that, I usually just would setup all the tools and components of what I was working on at the time. Having everything you need on the bench before you get started takes time, but it gives you a lot less headaches in the long run.

Recent Ijuin build

Do you have any photos or posters or something similar on the walls to motivate or inspire you?
My wife's artwork is throughout the house, as well as in my wrapping and finish room. There's also a window looking out to the backyard that has a nice view of the surrounding woods, here in this area of Virginia it's nice and quiet.

Recent Ijuin build

You're currently designing a new rod shop. Could you describe it briefly? What are the things that will set it apart from your old work area?

I am in the process of building a detached garage with a studio above. The studio is for my wife's, Suzanne, art studio. The garage part is for my workshop, both will have heating and cooling with make up air. The new shop will have enough space to work. I plan on having a clean room for finishing work, with a drying cabinet. Basically a bench and drying cabinet for varnishing and rod epoxy work, with few rod turners. The clean room will also have a dip tank for cane rods, and a dip tank for reel seat woods. For the rod wrapping, I will still use a spare room in the house. The other work areas will have dust collection and stations for assembly. I can work my way through each area and at the end... have a completed rod. I also plan to have an inventory area. This will be for blanks mostly, since the components will be at the stations. Having the stations takes away some of the clutter the old workspace had. 

Recent Ijuin build

Will your new shop be set up for both bamboo and rolling glass blanks?

I plan to do more work with split cane rods. I have a small library of tapers that work well. I enjoy making cane rods, it does take time and patience... I have had my share of sections that I ended up scrapping. I don't experiment too much with tapers, I guess I like what I like, so there's no need to chase something else. I don't see me making a lot of cane rods, but a few a year would be a nice goal. For wrapping and building cane blanks, I have an excellent cane maker who does outstanding work and will do any taper and configuration I request. I won't be doing any glass blank manufacturing. I am in the process of sourcing some private label blanks for myself. When I can find the right connection for glass and graphite blanks, I have a lot to share in design and direction. I plan to start up again with solid performing fly rods at a modest price. As time permits, I will work on some special projects. 

You can see more of Fred's work on his Facebook page.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


A few months ago, I ran into an acquaintance while he was fishing on the Rhine. We spoke for a few minutes, and when the conversation turned to fiberglass for some forgotten reason, he mentioned that he had an old glass rod at home that he never used anymore, and asked if I'd like it. Naturally answered in the affirmative, and didn't give it much more thought. A few weeks later, we all met for beer and some fly tying at our local bar, and he brought along this:

I love delving in to the history of an older rod, and a quick search on the Fiberglass Fly Rodders forum not only provided me with some interesting background information, but also informed me that the JET series is a relatively sought after vintage rod. According the the Hardy numbering system, which in 1965 started using a single letter to denote the year, and assuming I'm reading the rather illegible code properly as a "z", this rod is from 1971. I'm not sure what the first letter is because it looks like an "m" to me, but according to the link that's not possible...

The JET series of rods were designed by the famed John E. Tarantino, an expert caster and member of the Golden Gate casting club, who worked for the Fisher rod company designing rods and blanks for companies like Hardy and Scientific Anglers. As interest in Fisher-designed rods grew, Hardy had Fisher build a duplicate plant in Alnwick, England, from which Tarantino's JET (his initials) series were produced and sold from 1967 to 1975. Tragically, John was shot and killed during a robbery in San Francisco at the height of his career as an internationally renowned rodmaker.

John E. Tarantino
Come March, I'll throw on a Battenkill III reel, (Sadly I don't have an appropriately sized Hardy reel!) take it down to the river and add my own little contribution to the history of this beautiful old rod.