Saturday, February 27, 2010

On Blogging Late in an Angler's Life

    Here follows the substance of the last and final edition on paper of The Bouldercreek Angler-- after eleven years and forty-four numbers! In this last paper issue I proposed to divide the history of American fly fishing into six periods. I had thought to strike a blow for freedom. I wanted to get this idea of periods into circulation and possibly into accepted  usage. It may well be an exercise in vanity, I admit to that; but I am now grown so old that I feel quite free to do anything I damn well please, even to presume to divide our sport into historical periods. I figured it needed to be done; so I did it, and mailed it out to my list of 150 good old, cherished readers. Somehow those 150 had always felt to me an adequate circulation of my vanities. They are a bunch of really excellent people.
  And so here I am on  this February 26, 2010, writing directly onto my new blog, for the first time and without the aid or interference of Microsoft Word. I feel stunned. I can't believe it. After the many entreaties from the mailing list to preserve the BCA on paper, its single little page of convenience and concision, it's difficult to change. I suppose it was inevitable that I should run out of the steam necessary to handling the paper mailing.
    No surprise, then, that this blog was urged upon me. Helpers hurried to my assistance to get it up  and underway. It leaves me a bit dizzy. Not only am I given a new lease on the life of my ancient-of-age writing, but it may just get this "periods" idea out to a much wider audience. But then, on the other hand, it's hard  for me to believe that any but a "designated few" would ever slow down to do their reading off computer monitors.... Will they?
   And, I can never forget that, like our beloved mayflies, our ephemera, this blog is as ephemeral as they come, here today, gone tomorrow, into the oblivion that must also be the destiny of our mammalian flesh. Still, as I write this essay, I feel suddenly and utterly free, free to write in any way that pleases me, for as long and as many words as  ever I  want-- and any way I damned-well please. And you, my reader, may read it or not as you please-- and at no charge in time or, as they say, treasure.
   Ah, that infinite digital space! I get all excited as I write this. I think of Montaigne and how in the seclusion of his castle in France, almost 500 years ago, he invented the essay, and wrote what are the original and finest of them all. I rather think, that at this moment, I would have his blessing. He would say to me, "Let 'er rip! Go ahead, and don't spare the horses!" He would authorize me.
    And so I write about what it is for an old man, who should know better, to try to change his life, turn it around  in order to flog the notions, ideas, experiences that are his special burden. It becomes my privilege to so scatter them about on this blog. We old folks figure we have been around the block a couple times, have seen some things twice, and so stake our claim to a degree of authority,
    God in heaven, but it is wonderful to write English sentences!
    Those sentences allow me to dream of these six periods in the history of chucking flies, mostly to trout, but to any poor damned fish lucky enough to get the chance to strike at them. I am drawn into literary fantasies. As I plotted and laid out this chart of  the periods, I thought of Long John Silver and the treasure map of Treasure  Island, that fearsome chart. We are all like kids with maps of treasure in our heads, charts  to follow at our peril to riches-- or death, or both. Not unlike the digital oblivion to  which this piece must come.
    Please, then, cherished old readers of that list of 150, if you by chance shall come upon this, allow me to carry on, messing around in this electronic way. Who knows? The oblivion of ideas is infinite, and in its strange waters may lie the best fishing after all.
   I close now, recommending to you that simple, exquisite, lovely long, long rod, with its gossamer line fixed most elegantly dead-off at the top, for that ancient way of flicking a fly now here and now there, in the manner of  Tenkara. It is a sign of newly dreamed of times, The New Period,  into which we must go rejoicing-- or die, or both.

Friday, February 26, 2010


      Periods One, Two and Three
      The Eastern Dominance

      In the beginning there was:

     The Beginning: 1845–1900
Samuel Phillippi: the split- bamboo rod
Thaddeus Norris: how an American must fish
Washington Irving: first modern fishing story

And then there was:

The Identity Period: 1900–1920
Theodore Gordon: the dry fly defined
George La Branche: the dry fly in fast water
James Leisenring: the wet fly and nymph


The Golden Age: 1920–1944
Jim Payne: the fly rod perfected
Walt Dette: Catskill fly tying
Ray Bergman: story, lore, and tackle
Setting the tone


Periods Four, Five and Six
The Western Ascendancy

Followed by:

The Transitional Period: 1945–1960
War, the spinning reel, and tailwaters
Ted Trueblood: the beautiful angler
Vincent Marinaro: the American master
A. J. McClane : the complete authority


The TU Period: 1960–2008
Catch and release wild fish
The Great Expansion
Technological advance and rise of synthetics
Commercialization and a global economy

And now:

The New Period: 2009–
End of expansion
Reconsideration, reform, and restoration
Older and simpler methods and satisfactions
Tenkara, ancient fly fishing from Japan
                                                                                         © GMW

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tenkara USA

                                       Tenkara Comes to Colorado

        On precisely September 18 of this year, 2009, just before noon, Betty and I took off on our annual, ritual drive into the mountains, into the aspen gold-- before leaving for London in a few days. I hoped and believed that Betty had packed a good lunch, which for us has the power to redeem most every sorrow.

The aspen, however, were not our sole reason for leaving town: we had with us a brand new Tenkara fly fishing outfit, fresh from Japan by way of Mr. Daniel Galhardo’s new company in San Francisco. This minimalist outfit consists of an eleven foot, supremely light telescopic carbon rod, with neither guides nor reel seat-- because no reel is used-- and an eleven foot furled line to be attached, readily attached and detached, to the rod’s tip. To this one adds three or more feet of 5x tippet.

With a few flies, both mine and the authentic Tenkara kind from Japan, we were set for a trial run in Boulder Creek. Well up the canyon on the way to the aspen, we pulled off to check the creek and give Tenkara a try. We would, we felt sure, on this day, be introducing Tenkara into the history of Colorado’s fly fishing.

The first cast or two left me disoriented and frustrated. Why? Because with this ancient Japanese tackle and method, I was able to cast not one inch farther than twenty-five feet-- plus the length of my arm. The length of the cast is absolutely fixed at the length of rod, plus an equal length of line and tippet. The furled monofilament line (U S made) is more like a long tapered leader-- all airy and delicate. It’s all but impossible to make a sloppy cast with it.

The rod is no more than maybe three ounces, all the sections nestling into the twenty-inch butt section with its fine cork grip. It’s amazingly neat and attractive. With the line and tippet coiled on its tippet spool in my pocket, we thrashed our way through the willows down to a riffle, now in extremely low water. A few small fish were rising sporadically. On this momentous occasion, I fastened the line to the rod tip’s bit of red Dacron with a girth hitch, tied on a Caribou Captain, and got after them. One word seems right to describe this setting up: “charming”, a just plain charming thing to do, to remind me that there are still grand old things left to do in life.

And then came the big shock, that first short cast, a cast that could not be extended. It seemed so short, too short, even on so small a creek in such low water.

I had to get used to it, to the idea that there was to be no reaching out, no shooting, no double-hauling, just flicking, dancing, dabbing the fly here and there. I began to feel like a conductor with his baton conducting the water’s musical intimacies. I worked close, and rapidly, changing, adjusting angle and distance of cast as fast as I could think about it. And with the threat of hanging up in trees and snags all but gone! And almost impossible to put fish down with that harsh, splashing cast that we all dread making with conventional tackle.

It's really different, this fishing; for instance, this poor old left hand of mine, which for seventy years, has been managing my casts, acting as their mastermind. Now it had nothing to do but ride along a bit restlessly in and out of my pocket-- in its bewildered retirement.

I found myself intensely concentrated on the fly, watching it so clearly and so close. It really is a different, ancient old way of fishing, That gossamer line whisping through the air in response to the rod’s foot long delicate tip section.

Well, anyway, I missed three or four fish, and they missed me. Fishing small streams like this is the as advertised purpose of Tenkara: and for fish not much bigger than twelve inches. I had now done it!
So, I gathered the short line easily to my hand and “took down” with the same sense of pleasure with which I had set up. Rolling up the line on that little spool and stuffing it in my pants pocket felt like some kind of return to first things.

That simple, easy, almost casual experiment finished, we drove on to the lake for lunch, a fine, aspen-lovely, perfect day-- without a fish showing. So, we spent an indolent hour eating, resting, and feeding two prideful Stellers jays with bits of Betty’s sandwich. I love those birds for their crests, their powerful dark blue, and their restless wit.

I was then ready to go home, which Betty would not allow. We were there, and nothing would do but for me to get down to the lake and exercise Tenkara. It’s an age-old marriage trope of ours: I get tired or discouraged and want to go home: Betty refuses, and I pout, but she insists that I fish some more: and she’s always right. I almost always get exceptional fish for my abject obedience.

And so today it had to be Tenkara on still water over some worrisomely big trout. What if one of them should hit…. A close-in, band of water weed circles most of the lake. Big trout are always cruising along it. With Tenkara, quickly rigged again, with a big Stimulator sort of dry, I wet my toes in order to reach out to whisk the fly over the far side of the weed bed, when of a sudden, out of nowhere, came this, I think, hybrid cutthroat, two-and-a-half or three pounds, and took a pass at my fly-- and we both missed. Shaken, I flicked the fly back to that same spot, maybe a dozen feet away. And he came back again, rushed the fly, and took.

The crazy fish turned and immediately took off for deep water with my line, leader, and fly tied dead-off to the rod’s slender tip. Going straight away. What could I do with him? Nothing! All was predestined, foretold in the Gestalt of the equipment. All I could hope to do was protect that equipment by pointing the rod at the racing fish allowing him to break off the fly. Snap!

I want to tell you, it was a great and joyous, experience! I want to do it again-- and again. It’s not our awkward, messy old “catch and release”. It was having to do with a fine fish that over-powered and thrilled me with his attentions and then went free in style.

I wondered if this fish could have had any idea of his contribution to the developing history of American fly fishing in these, the early years of The New Period of American fly fishing.

tarrifs: rod $166
           line $20
           flies  3 for $7.50