Views From My Side of the Vice

Views From My Side of the Vise

May, 2023

Just over 100 years ago, Charles Adams and his son Lon were out fishing in northern Michigan. From what I have read, they were somewhat frustrated by not having the right flies to match a hatch. So they visited a local friend and fly tyer Leonard Halladay in Mayfield, Michigan. Mr. Halladay tried to come up with a pattern that would meet Mr. Adams’ needs and the Adams dry fly was created.

The traditional Adams is one of the few patterns that I cannot tie to my liking. I never seem to be able to get the upright wings tied in so they look right. I wonder if that’s why someone along the way created the Parachute Adams?

So let’s briefly talk about the Parachute Adams. I can tie this pattern pretty darn okay. Parachute-style flies are really not my favorite to tie, but I do tie them because they catch fish. Never one to accept “good enough” when it comes to my flies, I slogged (some would say stumbled) ahead in pursuit of a more perfect Adams. After years of exhaustive (and exhausting) research and experimentation at the bench and on the stream, my version of this classic is a mash-up of the original Adams, the Parachute Adams, the Adams Cripple from Blue Ribbon Flies and the Gray Haze Cripple from Walter Wiese at Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing that I call the Adams Special.

Hook: Size 16 or 18 dry fly hook

Tail: Mayfly Brown Zelon

Abdomen: Dun Bug Legs from Fly Tyers Dungeon

Wing: White Widows Web

Collar: Grizzly Rooster Hackle

For the abdomen on this pattern, I have settled on the dun-colored Bug Legs. I have not found this exact color from similar stretchy floss materials. The Bug Legs will not get darker when they get wet or covered in floatant. The poly wing is easy to see on the water just like a parachute post. The finished fly also maintains some of the same qualities of the traditional Adams. Give this pattern a try and see if it might not become your favorite Adams-style dry fly. Or you could decide to put your faith in one of the titans of fly tying who inspired my creation (Leonard Halladay, Craig Matthews or Walter Wiese) and use their version. I might sulk briefly, but I’ll get over it.

Paul Johnson

Waconia, Minnesota

Angler’s Conceits, part I

One of the definitions of conceit is a fanciful idea. Now let’s substitute flawed and apply it to our beloved preoccupation of fly fishing for trout. Has this ever happened to you?

Two anglers approach a pool on one of their favorite trout streams. They met in the parking lot and agreed that one angler would fish the upper half of the pool and the other angler would fish the lower half. Before entering the water they quietly observe the scene before them. While there are one or two desultory rises there are no Cedar Waxwings or Rough Wing Swallows feeding over the stream. They wade into casting position and begin to cast. After a while one angler catches a trout. The second angler, speaking just loud enough for the first angler to hear him says, “What did it take?” The first angler replies, “CDC Sulphur Emerger.” The second angler switches flies and resumes casting, fruitlessly it turns out, while the first angler catches another trout and then another and another. Finally, desperately, the second angler hollers, “What are they taking?”

Do we assume, because half a dozen trout grabbed that emerger, that all the trout are seeking an emerger? Really? An electrofishing project has indicated that there might be 100 fish in that pool. There might be three invertebrates emerging at the same time; sulphurs, Baetis, caddis or midges. Maybe the second angler is fishing over trout that have a preference for down wings? Or, maybe the second angler’s tippet is too short? To ascribe group thought to a pool of a hundred trout is what we can call a conceit, a fanciful or false idea.

Here’s another. Most of us old guys grew up practicing our blood knots under bright lights at the kitchen table. For you young people, a blood knot was the historical knot for joining tippet materials. Then about thirty years ago somebody published an article in a fly-fishing magazine about an easier knot for joining tippets. It was called the surgeon’s knot. It wasn’t long before everybody forgot about the blood knot because the new knot was so much easier to execute. A few years into my tenure at Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop I had a conversation with a hand surgeon who was getting started in our sport and wanted to learn how to tie tippet onto leader. So I sez to the guy, I sez, “You’ll like this one; it’s called the surgeon’s knot.” After demonstrating the knot to him he said, “Huh. I’ve never seen that.”

I’ve had a few surgeries since that fateful day. And after observing several different surgeons I realized that the reason the aforementioned hand surgeon had never seen that knot was because that’s not what they’re taught in med school. What they learn to use in med school is a half hitch. I’m pretty confident that no surgeon has ever closed a wound with a “surgeon’s knot.” So what the heck is it? Practically speaking, it’s a multiple overhand knot, either a double overhand or a triple overhand. If the knot you’ve been using is a “surgeon’s knot,” call it a double overhand and you’ll at least be accurate.

Views From My Side of the Vise

I think most would agree that the top three nymph patterns would have to be the Pheasant Tail Nymph, the Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymph and the Prince Nymph. I’ll leave it for you to decide which is #1, #2 and #3 because they all belong in your fly box.

In this column, I want to focus on the Prince Nymph. I have been tying and fishing with a Prince Nymph for many years. I learned somewhere along the way that the fly was created by Doug Prince.  What I did not know until I started to do some research on the fly was that its origins were right here in Minnesota. The original pattern was the Brown Forked Tail tied by Don and Dick Olson from Bemidji in the early 1930s. Doug Prince made some changes and renamed it the Prince Nymph which became widely available in the early 1940s.  

I personally like to tie Prince Nymphs, but I will admit that they are not the easiest fly to tie. The goose biots that are used for the tail and also the wing can create some issues. You can have a nice-looking tie going and with one poor thread wrap the whole thing can go south on you. This fly is one that you just need to work at and tie a fair number (dozens upon dozens) to get it down.

Tying the white goose biots in for the wing seems to create the biggest issue. It is somewhat difficult to judge the length of the wing and also to get them tied in straight. When you finally accomplish that, it takes 47 wraps of tying thread to completely cover up the butt ends of the biots and you are left with a big blob of tying thread.

What I have started to do is to use some dry fly hackle for the collar of the fly. After I get the white biots tied in, I tie in the hackle and make 1 ½ turns with it and that covers up the butt ends of the biots and gives the fly a nice finished look.

Give this a try and let me know if the Prince Nymph moves up your list of favorite flies to tie and fish.

Paul Johnson

Waconia, Minnesota



Now that you’ve got your rods inspected, your reels cleaned, and your lines cleaned and dressed, it’s time to move on to your terminal equipment, your flies and leaders. Compared to rods, reels and lines, this stuff is a pleasant evening’s work at your tying bench or kitchen table. Let’s take a look at your leaders first.

There are two kinds of leaders, those you used and those you didn’t. Your examination of the leaders you didn’t use consists of stretching sections of the leader in an attempt to straighten it. Because leaders are made of nylon, they can easily develop memory. A leader that’s been on the reel too long or coiled in its package too long will retain its coiled shape. If it doesn’t straighten out it can’t be fished. Throw it out. If it straightens easily put it back on the reel or coil it loosely and slip it back into its package.

Next, your examination of leaders you used has one extra step, checking for nicks and cuts. After straightening the leaders run your thumb and index finger (if you’ve got one) down its length. If you feel a nick, cut, abrasion or knot examine the area closely. This is where a magnifier comes in handy. If you find any of these weaknesses, you have two choices: cut the leader and retie it or throw it away.

On to your flies. Just like leaders, there are flies your fished and flies you didn’t. The only ones you need to be concerned with are the ones you fished, identified by their straggly appearance. Let’s start with the nymphs and wet flies. Isolate the used flies by tossing them in a shoe box or bowl. Take a close look at each one. Are the hooks rusty? Are the points broken or dulled beyond repair? Wastebasket. Are the thread heads coming apart? If you tie, put a few turns of 8/0 thread on the, trim the tags and lacquer the heads. You don’t tie? Wastebasket. Put the remaining flies back in their fly box, promise yourself you’ll reorganize the box, then make a list of what you need to replace.

You can repeat the same process with your dry flies and then there’s one extra step. Dry flies get more mangled than nymphs; the hackle gets smashed and the wing gets crushed. Take the salvageable flies to the kitchen. Start some water in the tea kettle and then go get your hemostat or needle nose pliers. Once the steam is rolling, pick up each fly individually and hold it in the column of steam for just a second. The steam will return the hackle and wing to their original shape and make the fly look like new. You’ll be amazed. Drop these flies in the shoe box or bowl until they’re dry. Put these flies back in their fly box – promise to reorganize the box and make a list of replacements. Now pour yourself a cup of tea and pat yourself on the back, Put your feet up.

Views From My Side of the Vise

One of my favorite all-time flies is the Lage Stop & Go Soft Hackle.  This pattern was developed by one of the real treasures in our little corner of the fly fishing world, Randy Lage.

Several years ago, Randy was fishing some off-colored water on the South Branch of the Whitewater River.  He was using a fly he called the Caution Fly.  It was a soft hackle fly tied with a black body and gold wire.  The fly was not working as well as he had hoped so off he went to his fly tying vise.  Randy had just returned from a trip to Lake Taneycomo in Branson, so the materials for a local favorite fly from there, the Crackleback, were on the top of his tying kit.  So he pulled out a spool of green tinsel. Now what to add to it?  Red wire, some dubbing and a partridge feather.  Voilà, the Stop & Go was born.  Red and green, get it?

I was introduced to this pattern by Randy one evening at Laughing Trout.  Never one to leave well enough alone (a recurring theme in these columns), I had to make some changes.  So I switched to red tying thread and changed the thorax to Superbright Peacock Dubbing.  Now I have the Lage Stop & Go Soft Hackle.

I fish this fly from early spring to late fall.  Randy designed the fly to be fished using the typical soft hackle technique of casting down and across the stream.  I like to fish it as the bottom fly of a two-fly rig under an indicator.  

You should tie some of these flies up and give them a try.  It just might become one of your favorite flies as well.

Hook: Size 16 Scud Hook

Thread: 14/0 Red

Abdomen: Holographic Green Tinsel, size medium

Rib: Red wire, size Brassie

Thorax: Wapsi Superbright Peacock Dubbing

Wing: Hungarian Partridge

Tenkara Fishing in Midwest Streams 2.0

“A rod, a line, and a fly, that’s all you need.” “Something is perfect not when you can add anything more to it, but when you can’t take anything away.” Yvon Chounaird, Founder of Patagonia

Back in January 2022, Rip Rap featured the article: Tenkara or Euro Nymphing – Worth A Try? For those that had their interest piqued from that article about fixed line fishing, here is a bit more in-depth look at Tenkara fishing.

A short history

Several years ago, I received a Patagonia catalogue featuring an article about traditional Japanese fishing methods that had been modernized and brought to the rest of the world. I recognized that Tenkara appealed to me for its apparent simplicity, apparent intuitiveness, and apparent effectiveness. “A rod, a line, and a fly, that’s all you need.”

Tenkara originated a number of centuries ago in the mountain streams of Japan for fisherman to catch fish for market. It is an effective method fishing that evolved through time not just for sport, but to feed the family. Interestingly, similar fixed line fishing evolved in a number of other regions in the world (for example Italy, Russia) for the same reasons.

The word “Tenkara” is short for “tenkara-tsuri” – a phrase that literally means “Fly Fishing” in the traditional mountain-dwelling communities of Japan. Tenkara can also be translated to “fishing from heaven”, “sky fishing”, or “empty sky fishing”. For me, the last definition is most accurate when I first started this method.

Original Tenkara equipment was made from material on hand; a long piece of bamboo that became the rod, a fixed line made of woven horsehair, and simple flies made from various feathers and thread of colored silk. Bamboo rod building became refined with rod made in multiple sections, which would fit inside of each other for portability. The flies consisted of 2-3 components, using hackle that would open facing forward, straight up, or backwards. The flies could either be fished on the water surface or below.

Modern Tenkara composite rods are long – typically 10.5 to 14.5 feet. They are supple and very light, ranging from under 2 ounces up to perhaps 4 ounces. They are also telescopic, and most collapse to between 15″ and 24″, depending on the model. The lines (either mono nylon or traditional braided) are usually about the length of the rod up to perhaps 1.5 times the length of the rod (to which anglers add from 3 to perhaps 5 feet of tippet), but they are very light – lighter than the lightest fly line.

I like Tenkara fishing because it is so simple for me to go fishing – everything needed goes in two containers. One tub has waders, boots, and net, and a small daypack has rod, line, flies and miscellaneous tackle. Throw them in the car and go.

Another benefit of the simplicity of Tenkara fishing – it makes winter fishing so much easier. No line guides to freeze, no reel components to freeze. Nice.

Another draw for me is the intuitiveness of Tenkara fishing. A lot of the challenge in fishing local water is avoiding brush and other hazards. Spending time learning to cast great distances is not as important to me as is effectively presenting the fly, allowing for an effective drift, and avoiding getting snagged. Tenkara more easily allow for precise fly placement in tight areas.

Even though one is not casting great distances as compared to rod and reel fishing, casting technique is important in Tenkara. For most people, learning the basic casting techniques for Tenkara is simple. However, as one becomes more experienced, a number of subtle advanced casting techniques can be learned to dramatically increase the number of fish caught. Tenkara fishing emphasizes the nuanced presentation of a fly over the selection of the fly.

Getting started with Tenkara

For those interested in getting started in Tenkara fishing, there are several providers that offer equipment and online videos teaching technique. The most well known of these providers is Tenkara USA, founded by Daniel Galhardo and based in Boulder, Colorado. Galhardo is credited with introducing modern Tenkara fishing to the US in 2009. Other well-known on-line Tenkara shops include Dragontail Tenkara and Tenkara Rods, both located in in Idaho, as well as Tenkara Bum (New York), and Zen Tenkara (Colorado). There are also several Japanese-based Tenkara equipment providers as well.

Not only does Tenkara USA offer a wide selection of rods, lines, and accessories, but it also an extensive instructional video library. When I first started Tenkara fishing, I used this instruction to teach myself how to rig my rod and cast. Now there are a number of on-line and in person instructional resources available to help one get started.


Tenkara Rod: $150 to $300

As with Western fly rods, Tenkara rods come in a variety of lengths, flex, and build quality. Most Tenkara rod manufacturers offer some sort of ‘standard’ or ‘starter’ rod.

Lines and Tippet: $15 to $20

Traditional line is a furled nylon. The more commonly used line is a nylon level or taped line.

Flies: $12 to $20

Just about any fly that is used in Western fly fishing can be used with a Tenkara rod. The most common type of traditional Japanese fly is called a sakasa kebari. This fly is usually tied as a reverse hackle onto a size 10-12 hook. It can be made in a variety of colors, but generally does not match any hatch. A kebari can be cast as a dry fly, and drifted as an emerger. The action of the hackle on and in the water serves as a very effective attractor. Depending upon conditions, a variety of nymphs can also be used.

From my experience Tenkara fishing in the Driftless region, I now only carry 5 or 6 different types of flies and nymphs. Warmer months, 95% of the time I only fish with kebari style flies. As the weather turns cold, I’ll switch to nymphs such as the famous pink squirrel. Leach patterns are also really effective with a fixed line.

Basic Technique

There is a fair amount of content available online that provides instruction on rigging and casting Tenkara equipment. The casting action has been described as a 12 and 2 motion as opposed to the 10 and 2 motion found with Western fly fishing. I’ve also heard Tenkara casting described as being similar to the action of pounding a nail into the wall to hang a picture. To get the job done, you don’t want to pound too hard or too soft – same as with your cast.

Chris Stewart of Tenkara Bum has on his site a great description of why Tenkara is so effective: “The long rod and light line allow you to keep almost all your line off the water, greatly reducing drag. Reduced drag yields better presentation, and better presentations yield more fish. And as good as the drifts are with the traditional wet flies, using a tenkara rod with a dry fly and relatively short line will give you better drifts than you have ever had.”