Furrowed brows, furled leaders

One of the inescapable bipolar fits I have with fly fishing is my either/or conundrum when I decide to hit the water. If I’m headed to main artery of the Sacramento River, there is no either/or; I must simply fish Western tackle because the fish are too big, too strong, and are the equivalent of trying to land a jet skier. 5x aint gonna fly on a fixed line.

Then, I have the struggle of a “wheel within a wheel.” When I do decide it is Tenkara, I now find myself wrestling a different prevaricating angel: traditional flies, or Western?

And in my wild, parabolic swings, I have days where I decide that retro is the way—or at any rate—retro from the Lilian forward. I’m not exactly inclined to try to make myself a 14’ 7” rod. Not yet.


But the idea of making a traditional furled leader from horse hair became a subsidiary obsession for me. Now, I’m smart enough to figure that culling a brittle lock of horsehair from my fly tying box was going to have me delivering a compromised line.

Tenkara Bum has gone ahead and done some footwork for us all. His Horse hair kit was the low-hanging fruit I needed to assuage my need for antediluvian angling swag. I’ve made two, and broken both (though I have already repaired one), but I want to talk about these leaders for a second, because I’m going to continue making them.

Without giving away his instructions, understand that the leaders are effectively 10-11 feet in length, in five sections, and taper down to a fine, three-hair end (That said, level lines are also possible).

In my opinion, every Tenkara fisher should try one of these, either by having one made, or making it outright. The transfer of energy in a horsehair leader is fantastic. Once they are wet, they lose all memory, and just seem to go where you want them. I will be buying more hanks of hair from Chris, and as I make a few leaders, will post them for sale in the store. I know Chris quit making them because time is somewhat prohibitive (this is because one’s fingers become the loom upon which the leaders are furled. I can have one complete in 40 minutes thus far). If I find an appropriate furling tool (again, based on some centuries-old matrix), I may start producing them. I say that because I’m also guitar player, and the fingers can take a beating with prolific, headlong dives into the technique as written.

That said, I haven’t yet vetted the leader on trout, but bluegill. My first leader was basically an unmitigated disaster anyway, so the “fraying” it suffered was because of endemic flaws from my construction.

Last night, I went out to a local Bass pond with my Ito rod, and some relatively traditional flies. I hooked probably fifteen bluegill before I had a problem. Those fish fight like crazy anyway. What was even cooler, was an ancillary situation.

I walked up to the water with my Tenkara rod, extended it and proceeded to fish. Two young boys across the mini-cove watched me intently, as they told me they had “caught nothing.” The usual dialogue about “what are you fishing with” ensues, and so on . . . “ They were using salmon eggs.

My first cast out, and violent little bluegill grabs my wet fly while it was yet a dry one. Fish after fish, and I could see that the boys were trying to work out what might be happening.

Now, before I go on, I’m not setting this up to be some David vs. Goliath meets Bait vs. Fly contest, in which the uncircumcised bait Philistine is sent away. I’ve been made to look like a chump with Powerbait, despite my etymological one-ups. I’ve had the metrics against me in the past. What I am saying though, it this was a great opportunity for fly-fishing diplomacy.

Back to the kids: They were friends, and one of the kids’ dad, named Keith, walks out to see how they were doing. His son started drawing attention to the aerial antenna in my hand. Within a few minutes, I offered to modify his bait rod setup. I ran a 5xed Kebari fly off his now-barren hook. I had him set his bobber to a shallower setting, and then cast out.

“Twitch the fly, and then pause,” I said.

Within three casts, he had two fish. This led to a discussion of Tenkara in general, but the fact that I was sporting a horse-hair leader was a great point-of-departure. I know it it were me, and I were using modern gear, and this white-haired anachronism started carping about 300-year-old fishing techniques—I’d be fascinated. Turns out they were too.

I told the young man to keep the fly, and then sent them some links, which will ultimately illuminate Tenkara fishing.

“I think you may have started an interest in fly fishing,” said the dad.

“It’s a great journey,” I said.

This entry was posted in Fly Tying, Tenkara, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s