Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Microfiber Pollution

As I find other interesting articles and videos on this subject I will put links at the bottom of this post.

As a part-time fishing guide, water is an essential element of my life. What happens to and in the water has a direct impact on the quality of the experience for my clients. As a board member of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA), I have a keen interest in how the industry looks at and addresses water issues, whether they are access or quality. As the deputy director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network where my focus is on marine issues, so I am tuned into the challenges we face with our oceans.

One subject that gets my attention in all three areas of my professional life is the issue of plastic pollution. The shop I guide for, Mossy Creek Fly Fishing, found an innovative solution to the use of disposable plastic containers for fishing flies. AFFTA quickly embraced this solution and now promotes it as an industry best practice. Packaging is the biggest part of the plastic pollution problem but not the only one. It was the small stuff that recently caught my attention.

One company that is at the forefront of environmental issues is Patagonia. They have been educating people about plastic pollution in our oceans for years. In June 2016, they turned their attention to microplastics in the waste stream. According to the post, What Do We Know About Tiny Plastic Fibers in the Ocean? in Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles, the microfibers in synthetic clothes like fleece are shed during washing and are not captured by filter systems in treatment plants. The microfibers wind up in the ocean, on beaches, and in rivers and lakes. According to Patagonia:

“We know a single synthetic garment can shed thousands of synthetic microfibers in a single wash. We also know synthetic microfibers, as opposed to microplastic beads, have an irregular shape that can pose a threat to smaller organisms—and may enter the food chain and work their way up to humans. We also know we sell a lot of fleece; what we produce, combined with all the polyester and nylon products made and sold by other outdoor and apparel brands (and other industries), may constitute a significant problem.”

While knowing there is a problem is a key first step, the important question is what each of us can do about it. Somedays the challenges we face seem daunting especially when seen through the twin lens of policy and politics. Daunting they may be, but there are things we as individuals can do to make a difference.

Last month in a follow-up post, An Update on Microfiber Pollution, Patagonia
shared what they have learned and where they are headed. “Over the past two years, the shedding of microfibers from Patagonia’s synthetic garments has taken on heightened urgency in how we consider our priorities moving forward. We’ve been working on several fronts…”

Here are the steps Patagonia suggests individuals can take.

  • Keep Using It: Keeping our gear in use longer is something we can all do to reduce our personal impact on the planet. Buy only what you need, buy high quality and make it last. In Patagonia’s recent study with researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, a low-quality, generic-brand fleece shed significantly more over its life span than Patagonia’s high-quality products (brenmicroplastics.weebly.com).
  • Wash Less Often & Invest in a Front-load Washer: Microfibers shed in the wash—so wash your gear only when it’s absolutely necessary (you’ll conserve water in the process). Even your most-used outerwear should only need a full wash occasionally. If it’s caked with dirt (and we hope it will be), consider using a rag or sponge to spot clean rather than putting it through a machine cycle. And consider your washing machine: Studies show synthetic jackets laundered in top-load washing machines shed more than five times as many microfibers as the same jacket in front-load washers.
  • Fiber Filters Help: Putting your synthetic clothing into a filter bag before washing by hand or machine can significantly reduce the flow of microfibers into your drain. Starting in the coming weeks, you can buy (at cost) the easy-to-use Guppy Friend (guppyfriend.com) at Patagonia.com throughout the United States and Europe. Or install a permanent washing machine filter (requires some plumbing expertise), like Wexco’s Filtrol 160 (septicsafe.com/washing-machine-filter).

I admire the leadership Patagonia shows with their corporate ethic and willingness to recognize the impacts their products have, do the research on that impact and look for solutions not only in their manufacturing process but providing ways the end users can mitigate that impact. The least we can do as consumers is educate ourselves and act responsibly. The oceans and their inhabitants will thank us.

Author’s note: this post originally appeared in On the Waterfront the Marine Fish Conservation Network‘s blog.

Articles of interest:

CBS News: How microfibers in clothes are polluting our oceans

BBC: Video captures moment plastic enters food chain

We can clean the ocean: Rachael Miller at TEDxLowell


Casting a Tenkara Rod


Jason Sparks photo

Casting demonstrations are a great way to introduce tenkara. For the last couple of years, I have had the good fortune to do tenkara casting demos at The Fly Fishing Shows in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Lancaster, Pennsylvania and the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival.

Among the myriad benefits of fishing with a tenkara rod is how easy the rod is to cast. While the fundamental casting principles still apply, the simplicity of the outfit; just a rod and a line, make casting a very simple and intuitive process.

A fly rod and reel outfit uses a rod that is designed to cast a weighted line. As my friend Dusty Wissmath likes to say; it is a flexible lever designed to cast a flexible weight. Each rod is designed to cast a specific line weight. There needs to be a certain amount of that weighted line out beyond the rod tip to make the rod cast the line to the target. The weighted line is essential to the system. It is what allows the rod to load and make the cast.

The caster loads the rod using the force of physical energy to build potential energy (bend or “load” the rod) that when released (the rod straightens) becomes kinetic energy transferred to the line, delivering the fly to the target. The weighted line is essential to building the amount of potential energy or load in the rod.

A tenkara rod is a very flexible lever designed to cast a variety of very light lines. The line weight is not the essential element to loading the rod. Just moving your arm or flicking your wrist will load the rod. My rod of choice is a Patagonia 10′ 6″ tenkara rod.

Let’s look at the steps for casting a conventional fly rod.

  • Start with the rod tip on or near the surface of the water with two or three-rod lengths of line out in front of you.
  • Raise and accelerate the rod backward to an abrupt stop just past vertical.
  • Let the line extend straight out behind you.
  • Accelerate the rod forward to an abrupt stop with the rod tip at about head level.
  • Follow the line down to the water.

Now let’s look at the steps for casting a tenkara rod.

  • Start with the rod tip in front of you with about a rod length of line hanging from the tip of the rod.
  • Accelerate the rod backward to an abrupt stop just before or at vertical.
  • Let the line extend straight out behind you.
  • Accelerate the rod forward to an abrupt stop with the rod tip at about head level.
  • Don’t follow the line down to the water especially if you are fishing a dry fly or dry dropper.

The elements of timing, so important in the weighted line system, are not as critical with the tenkara cast because your physical energy controls the loading of the rod. The line plays a much smaller role in making the cast work. This is one of the reasons people enjoy using a tenkara rod. The casting execution is very very simple.

In addition to the above, there are other differences in casting a tenkara rod that contribute to making it easier.

  • You can use your wrist to make a cast; a big “no no” with conventional fly casting.
  • You don’t “shoot” line eliminating the need to master the “pat your head while rubbing your stomach” element of conventional fly casting.
  • You don’t need to mend the line as often or in most cases at all.
  • The cast requires less energy and is slower.
  • You tend to cast more “open” loops making casting two fly rigs less prone to tangling.


Casting a tenkara rod is not a whole lot different from casting a conventional fly rod. Someone who has mastered casting a conventional rod will understand it in seconds. Most beginners will quickly get the hang of it and spend more time concentrating on fishing rather than casting, and isn’t that the whole point anyway?

Author’s note: A version of this article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.


Tenkara Demo

It is show season and I had the chance to do a couple of casting demos and seminars at The Fly Fishing Show in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

As part of the Mossy Creek Fly Fishing crew and a Patagonia Fly Fishing Ambassador it is great opportunity to share how easy and fun tenkara is as a fishing technique.

“The more you know the less you need.”


Photo by Jason Sparks

Two Fly Tenkara

In September I was in Idaho for a press event hosted by Patagonia. The purpose was to go into deep detail about their 2016 line of waders. As a newly minted Patagonia ambassador, I was along to talk about Patagonia’s approach to tenkara.

SFF BookAn added benefit was having Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s owner and hardcore tenkara proponent, join us for the three days. Chouinard and two colleagues, Craig Mathews and Mauro Mazzo have written a book, entitled Simple Fly Fishing, on simple techniques for fly-fishing and tenkara and this was a chance to see some of Chouinard’s techniques in practice.

Chouinard and Patagonia are committed to using tenkara and the simple techniques it requires to get more people into fly-fishing and as a side benefit, become stewards of the natural world.

Tenkara, for me, has always shone as a dry fly technique, so I was intrigued when Chouinard talked about using tenkara to fish two soft hackles, downstream. He said it was his preferred way of teaching people how to use a tenkara set up because it was so effective.

Most of the people who participated in the event had never fished with a tenkara rod and some had never fly-fished at all. To his credit, Chouinard took these folks under his wing and using his technique, quickly had them catching fish after fish.

This is a downstream fishing technique that may fly in the face of some long held fly-fishing conventions. I saw it work with others time and time again, used it myself and now I’m a believer. The key is keeping the line tight so you can connect with the fly and the fish.


If you are fishing a 10-foot, six-inch or 11-foot rod use 20 feet of floating line. 20 feet may seem long to those of us in the east but on the western rivers it was just the ticket. I have tried the technique on my local spring creeks and shortened the line to 14 feet.

A seven-foot, six-inch leader is attached to the line with a perfection or double surgeon’s knot. I adapted this for our local water by cutting 2 feet off the butt end of the leader, making it 5 feet, 6 inches. I know this seems like a large knot and it would be for dry flies, but the goal is to keep tension on the line and the drag from the knot helps.

Floating lines are becoming more common and Patagonia offers 40 feet of 0.027-inch Cortland floating line made of a small-diameter, hard mono core and a supple PVC coating. Each package includes a seven-foot, six-inch, 3x leader. They retail for $24.95.


A word of caution here; two fly rigs, if not cast well, can become a tangle very quickly, so casting fundamentals are key. The most fundamental of fundamentals is keep slack out of the system.

fliesWe were using soft hackles and I heartily recommend them. The point fly is tied to the end of the tippet and will be the larger, bushier or heavier of the two flies. The dropper will be smaller or lighter and tied in above the point fly. Two flies give the fish two food choices, help straighten the line as you fish and most importantly, the flies have two different actions in the water.

The easiest way to tie on the dropper was with a dropper loop, a separate piece of tippet attached to the leader above the point fly. Here is how you do it. Tie in a length of tippet for the point fly, say 3 feet. Now take six to nine inches of the same size tippet and tie a perfection loop or double surgeons knot on one end.

Hitch the section of tippet to the leader by taking the tag end through the loop and tightening it above the knot to the last section of tippet. Tie your fly to the tag end and you are set to go.

Chouinard shared a tip with me about this; use regular nylon tippet for the point fly, but stiffer fluorocarbon for the dropper. The stiffer fluoro helps keep the dropper away from the main leader/tippet reducing tangles.


Make a quartering (45-degree) downstream cast. As soon as the flies are in the water make an upstream mend. Yes, upstream. Upstream mends will get the slack out and not swing those soft hackles too fast, they are nymph imitations after all, not streamers. The two flies and the bulky knots will help keep the line tight so you can feel any hits. The key is to maintain direct control of the flies.

When the flies are downstream you can make subtle twitches to the two flies by putting your thumb on top of the rod and squeezing the cork with your fingers. You don’t want to make big moves, just a small twitch to make the soft hackle pulse. Time and again I saw fish hit at the end of the twitch, their predator instinct hard at work.


Those of you who like fishing dries like I do will also benefit from this technique. Substitute a caddis, stimulator or terrestrial for the dropper and with a bit of practice you will have that dropper hopping rather than skittering or swimming. In one run out west, using this hopping caddis technique, I brought a dozen rainbows to hand in less than half an hour.


While I’m still a devout member of the church of the dead drift, I saw firsthand how this simple technique had rank beginners catch fish in short order. It opened my eyes to another way of introducing new people to tenkara and helping them unlock the door to more enjoyable time on the water.

Author’s note: This article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

Products mentioned and shown here are available at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing.


What’s My Line

Mossy Creek - 9x3b
As the popularity of tenkara grows, tweaks and innovation are becoming the rule rather the exception. One area that has seen a good deal of change is the type of line being used.

If you are new to tenkara, the line is a key component in the setup. Like other forms of fly-fishing the line both loads the rod and delivers the fly but is not stored on a reel. It is a fixed length attached to the rod tip.

When I started with tenkara the line choices were pretty basic. You had a choice of furled lines or level lines. Today there are a variety of line options with more on the horizon. For example small diameter fly lines have recently become popular.
All are readily available and have their proponents, as you will see below.


Level lines are a single diameter of line. Materials are usually nylon, monofilament or fluorocarbon. Level line users pick a diameter to suit the fishing they are doing and the fly they are casting. Benefits include economy, the ability to adjust length easily and delicate presentations. A key component in selecting level lines is visibility. Clear lines are hard to see and regular level line users opt for bright, florescent colors like orange, pink or green.

Rob Worthing of Tenkara Guides LLC offered some important observations about picking level lines. “Level lines that are created specifically with fixed line fly-fishing in mind are 100 percent fluorocarbon, and are formulated to be stiff with little memory. The stiffness is important in holding the line off the water and keeping a direct connection to your fly.”

Because fluorocarbon is dense it has some key advantages according to Worthing.“The density improves casting. The low surface area to weight ratio is also why it excels in sinking flies. It is less apt to get pushed around by varying currents at different depths, allowing you to establish a more direct connection with your fly.”

Fishing with denser level lines also allows you to use a lighter line, which contributes to a key tenkara advantage; the ability to keep line off the water.

Chris Stewart of Tenkara Bum agrees with the advantage of a lighter line. “Even though heavier lines are easier to cast, they are harder to catch fish with. You can’t hold them off the water as well, so you can’t get the same drifts that you can get with lighter lines. Also, lighter lines have less inertia, so they are more sensitive, it takes less to make them twitch.”


Often furled lines are the first line new tenkara users try. Furled lines are multiple
strands of material that taper from thick to thin. They are similar to furled leaders used in other forms of fly-fishing but are usually longer. 11 feet to 13 feet are common and longer lengths are available. Most are made with Kevlar to reduce the “stretchiness” that comes from nylon or monofilament.

Customization is quite common in the furled line arena. Do it yourself furling jigs and videos are available for those who want a try building a line and personalize their rig. Kevin Kelleher’s book, Tenkara, Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing, has a chapter about making your own lines.

Two companies stand out in the furled line market, Moonlit Fly Fishing and Streamside Furled Leaders. Both offer a wide selection of lengths and designs.

Many people, myself included, like the “feel” of a furled line when casting. This often helps people make the transition from rod and reel to tenkara.


The use of very light floating lines has become more popular as tenkara anglers push the innovation envelope. The lines are the same as floating fly lines currently on the market just cut down to suit tenkara style of fly-fishing. They are usually level lines in small diameter, although some folks use lightweight tapered lines. Common sizes range from 0.022 diameter running line to two weight double taper.

The most common reason for using floating fly lines has been “castability.” Much like the tapered furled lines, fly rod and reel anglers picking up a tenkara rod find the feel of casting a floating line similar to what they are used to, helping make the transition to tenkara easier.

Floating lines are becoming more common and Patagonia offers 40 feet of 0.027-inch Cortland floating line made of a small-diameter, hard mono core and a supple PVC coating. Each package includes a seven-foot, six-inch, 3x leader. They retail for $24.95 and are available at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing.

Longer rods, stiffer actions and bigger flies have been some of the reason cited for using these types of line.

Matt Sment of Badger Tenkara is a big proponent of floating line and offered these observations. “Floating line has solidly become my preference. I believe it offers significant advantages, including – high durability, lowest cost over time (you can fish the same line for many seasons), exceptionally resistant to tangles in the first place and easy to untangle if you get one (you wont lose a line to a tangle), superior visibility, functions well below freezing temperatures, well suited to throwing larger/heavier flies, supports a wide variety of tactics (like ‘line as sight indicator,’) does not become waterlogged and change characteristics, and is very easy for beginners to learn on.”

Here in the Shenandoah Valley were I guide for Mossy Creek Fly Fishing, floating lines are my favorite for fishing large terrestrials, big bushy dries and dry-dropper rigs.

The desire to innovate has become a hallmark of tenkara here in the U.S. The range of line options and the ability to easily rig a rod with different lines is just another advantage of tenkara.

As Paul Vertress, head tenkara guide for RIGS Adventure Co., commented, “A couple of extra lines in your pocket weighs very little, and gives you so much more flexibility on different water and conditions. Simplicity + options = success.

Author’s note: A version of this article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

The Road to Tenkara

Tenkara fishing a Montana spring creek

How does a perfectly good modern trout guide become devoted to an ancient style of fly-fishing? Blame it on an article called “Simple Gifts” that appeared in Fly Rod & Reel’s October 2009 edition. If I hadn’t read that piece I wouldn’t be messing around with tenkara rods today.

But that’s what happened—a quick evolution from fishing trout with standard fly rods and reels to a stick and string, and a whole new approach to the water. In fact, after reading Yvon Chouinard’s article, I called a friend, Craig Mathews, who owns Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Montana, and asked about tenkara. I could hear a grin in his voice as he said, “Oh sure, we’ve been fishing them [tenkara rods] on O’Dell Creek and we are having a blast. They would be fantastic for your [eastern] brook trout streams.”

At the time I was struggling with my own guiding experiences. Too many trips with new or novice anglers were coming up short. They wanted to catch brook trout on dry flies, but their limited casting and presentation skills made success elusive. It was all about managing that fly line, and most of them just couldn’t get the knack. As a good guide I could adjust the rig to help them catch fish by going to streamers and nymphs, but the joy and excitement of the surface take remained a challenge. And I wasn’t the only one noticing this problem—anyone who takes up fly-fishing has an important skill set to acquire. In order to fly-fish with any reasonable chances of success, a person has to be able to cast. This can be frustrating to the novice and is probably the main reason there are so many one-rod owners—people who quit the sport before they really gave it a chance.

And that’s why tenkara caught my attention. I thought to myself, if casting becomes less of a challenge and people can start catching fish sooner than they would on standard gear, that’s a good thing, something to be embraced, right? In my opinion people who get hooked on fly-fishing will buy more rods, gear and accessories as they progress in the sport. But if they give up early because they can’t master the cast, nor catch any fish, and they become frustrated and take up some other sport, that’s not good for anyone’s business. With that thought in mind, I ordered a Tenkara USA 11-foot Iwana rod and gave it a try.

Tenkara is a traditional Japanese method of fly-fishing that has been proven for centuries in Japan’s high-mountain streams. It reduces the necessary gear to three basic elements—a rod, a line and a fly. There’s no reel and there are no line guides. The line is attached to the end of the rod. Traditional tenkara has many devotees here and, as practiced in Japan, it is really more of a wetfly technique. They use a simple reverse-hackle fly, a sakasa kebari, (similar to our soft hackles), and fish it wet.

Tenkara lines are either level fluorocarbon or furled braid. They are very light and easily cast with the very flexible tenkara rod. Because they don’t float, they are best suited to the traditional style of mostly sub-surface tenkara fishing. Many of us dryfly guys are tinkering with traditional fly lines, trying to incorporate them in our tenkara fishing, hoping to turn over larger flies, such as beetle and hopper imitations, with more success. The advantages to using fly line include better energy transfer, tapers that can be varied to suit particular presentations and situations, and a “feel” that many anglers are used to. The rods are relatively stiff at the butt, but they flex significantly, especially at the tip, which protects extremely light tippets. Tenkara rods appear to be delicate, and they are, but they also stand up to the typical rigors of fishing as well as traditional rods.

the tug is the drug…

These rods make teaching the basics of fly-fishing very easy and they allow me to get my clients on the water and fishing much faster than if they were trying to master a traditional rod. With the tenkara rod the angler spends most of his or her time focusing on fishing technique, not line management. And, as I quickly learned, tenkara allows anglers to get incredible drag-free drifts, sometimes three or four times as long as you might achieve with a standard setup. As you probably know, the drag-free drift is one of the most important, if not the most important, elements of dryfly success.

Since buying that original rod I’ve added more Tenkara USA rods to my collection and fished them on a variety of waters. Today, tenkara rods are a good substitute for any of my trout rods from 5-weight on down, and I like the method so much that in 2010 I joined Mossy Creek Fly Fishing, located in Harrisburg, Virginia, as their in-house tenkara guide and ambassador.
Again, what has captured our attention and created excitement for those of us who prefer fishing dry flies, and worship at the altar of the drag-free drift, is how effectively tenkara improves those drifts.

The light lines make high-sticking nearly effortless. The long rods, from nine to 14 feet or more, help keep the line out of pesky currents. Fishing small, light dries or dry/dropper rigs is deadly effective. You only have to try it once to believe it.

I’m not the only one who feels this way, and I’m not the only one who sees great growth potential in tenkara. Mathews, for instance, feels so strongly about tenkara that he signed on with Chouinard and Mauro Mazzo to write a book about tenkara, with hopes of bringing more people into the sport. Mathews says he sees tenkara as a great teaching tool and a great way to get people excited about fly-fishing. And he agrees that a new method is good for business.

“[With tenkara] you get people into the sport,” Mathews told me. “Initially they come in and they get a tenkara in their hand, they catch a few fish, six months later they are buying a Winston rod and a Hatch reel. The sky’s the limit here.”

In the end tenkara is just an effective technique, and fishing in its most basic form. As such, an angler gets to focus on the fishing rather than the gear. For me, tenkara represents simplicity and a return to the basics, and that’s how Chouinard summed it up in his article in this magazine: “I believe the way toward mastery of any endeavor is to work toward simplicity; replace complex technology with knowledge, hard work and skill.”

That notion continues to intrigue me.

Author’s note: This article first appeared as Back To The Basics in the Summer issue of Fly Rod and Reel.