Monday, September 25, 2017

Tenkara Trials at Maramec Spring - June 2017

Back in July of this year, Emily and I welcomed our bouncing 9 pound (now 12.5 pound) baby boy, Willie, to the family. And get this: it turns out parenting is pretty damn time consuming and exhausting. Between the diaper changes; midnight, 2 AM, and 4 AM feedings; car seat installation classes; and just general chaos around the house, there hasn't been a ton of time to pop off to the stream for a bit of fishing. It has been nuts, but absolutely amazing. Look at this little lump. He's the best. Why would I want to ditch him to go hang out with some fish?

That said, I do find myself sitting in my cubicle at work, blank-faced staring off into space and trying to imagine the sounds of the Current River below the dam at Montauk, or visualizing the flash of white trout belly when a strike is landed. The smell of a campfire and feel of damp, cold autumn ground. As of right now, the next fishing trip I have in the books is a weekend Emily and I are trying to put together for mid-December (probably Montauk). Our weekend schedules are pretty much jam-packed tight until year's end, and my short day-trips are pretty much on hold until Willie is a bit older.

The last fishing trip I was able to sneak away for was back in June, and Emily was only 8 months pregnant. I met up with my pal Jake from St. Charles (who coincidentally also has a pregnant wife), and we drove the 90 miles to St. James to have a day of fishing at Maramec Spring. This trip would prove to be an exercise in patience and first-experiences, full of surprises and frustrations.

Maramec Spring is always a toss-up, because if the weather is too nice, it can get over-crowded very quickly. As I recall, it was not abundantly over-crowded that day, but we by no means had the place to ourselves. Per usual, the popular spots were crowded with folks camping out in folding lawn chairs. The problem with Maramec is that pretty much the entire park is accessible to those without waders. Correction: this isn't a problem per se, and in fact, I'm sure folks who can't wade or are wheelchair bound really love this park. It just lacks any hidden hot spots that require a bit wading. So whereas the park does provide a great deal of accessibility, this can lead to over-crowding. But I digress.

Fog and Maramec Spring
My goal for that day was to finally land a trout on the Tenkara Rod that Emily had gotten me last Christmas. I gave up on the rod too quickly the trip before, and I knew with a little patience, I'd be able to get into some trout without the hassle of a reel.

Here's a fair warning: I'm about to make a golf analogy. I am not a fan of golf, and find the sport incredibly boring and tedious. I hate how golf courses tear up the landscape and I can't stand golf yuppies. A large part of my disdain for golf stems from how bad I am at the sport. It should be so easy. You use this stick with a big wedge on the end to hit this ball far and eventually into a hole. If I think too hard, I cannot hit a golf ball at all with a driver. However, if I just walk up to the tee and swing at the ball without thinking, I can his it pretty far. Granted, it will hook way off to the right (or slice I guess?), but regardless, I just can't think about my swing in order to be successful.

It was the same phenomenon when landing trout on my Tenkara rod. When Jake and I arrived at the stream, I immediately set off downstream towards the group of peninsulas where I had a lot of luck the trip before. After a few minutes of getting the hang of my Tenkara cast, and getting the depth right on my strike indicator, I had a trout of the fly. Now I just had to figure out how the hell to get the fish in the net without a reel. This is where the golf analogy comes into play. I played the fish with just the resistance of the pole for a while until I was able to reach out and get a hand on the fly line. I don't know how, but I did manage to get the fish in the net with no problem. Maybe it was the lack of thought, or maybe it was just luck, but it was the easiest fish I would catch all day. Many frustrating battle were to follow.

My first trout on Tenkara
I stayed in the same spot for a while, and it didn't take long to get a second Rainbow on the fly. Maybe I was cocky, or maybe I'm just not as good of a fisherman as I think, but the next three or four trout that I was able to get on the fly broke off, typically within moments of me having them safely in the net. I'm thinking that part of my problem deals with tension in the rod and line, and my unfamiliarity with Tenkara fishing. When I have the fish in the water, and am playing it using just the tension and resistance of the rod, everything seems to work fine. But as soon as I get my hand on the fly line, or even worse, the leader, there is too much tension and not enough give, and either my knot will slip or the leader will break. This happened so. many. times. It was infuriating. I suppose it could be my knot skills (I was using a nail knot on the hook head, which usually suffices) or it could be the leader size (I was using a Size 7, which is probably smaller than necessary), but either way, something in my system was failing, and I lost A LOT of fish as a result.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so after my third or forth fish broke off with the leader in my hand, I decided to try an alternate method. I was fishing in front of a group of two girls lounging in lawn chairs, and I pass the time by eaves dropping on their morning conversation. Standing on the same group of peninsulas, I hooked another trout and decided I was going to beach this one rather than try and net him. This actually worked, but it did raise a strong feeling of guilt, as I'm sure beaching a trout is more harmful to the fish than netting them. I was able to get him in the gravel and pick him up, and to my surprise, this was no Rainbow Trout. Gone was the green skin and pink stripe, and instead was golden yellow flesh and black polka dots. Finally, after years of fly fishing, I had caught my first brown trout. And I even had a couple of gossipy girls sitting there to witness my triumph and to snap my pic before releasing the Brown Trout back into the stream.

Finally a Brown Trout
The rest of the day was much of the same. I would land a strike, play the fish, but inevitably lose him trying to pull in the leader by hand. I did finally catch another Rainbow fishing the fast water near the handicap access, but it was an ugly land that I wasn't proud of. I need to watch some youtube videos to figure out how to finish the job with a Tenkara rod with even a quantum of grace. My buddy, Jake, did pretty well, and I saw him pull in some nice sized fish. He's not a fly-fishing purist, and will bust out his ultralight rod fairly often, but I don't hold it against him.

Jake landing a Rainbow Trout
I also brought along my camera and telescopic lens, just in case some rare birds showed up. I spotted a large Pileated Woodpecker hanging out in a tree near the park entrance, but it flew off before I could get my camera out. Rookie mistake. There was also a few Turkey Vultures hovering above Jake and I during lunch, and they were happy to have their photo taken.

Turkey Vulture
As the day drew long, we cleaned our catches and eventually headed back east. It was a frustrating, but fun trip, and I've thought about it a great deal in past weeks as I sat trapped in a cubicle in St. Louis County. I'm not sure if I'll be able to fish anytime soon, or any time before December, but I know when I do I'll truly cherish the time I get on the stream and away from the computer monitor. Now I just need my baby to hurry up and grow up so that I can take him fishing with me.

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