Sowbug Roundup Recap

The 21st annual Sowbug Roundup was held this past Thursday through Saturday in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Organized by the North Arkansas Fly Fishers club, the Sowbug Roundup is their only fundraising event for the entire year. Proceeds are used to fund scholarships for local students.

It is a fly tying event, drawing tyers from around the world. The tyers sit at standard 3 foot by 8 foot folding tables. There are chairs on the other side of each table so that visitors and other tyers can sit, ask questions, watch and learn.

They do have vendor tables around the perimeter, but the emphasis is clearly on the tying, not the selling.

The theme of this year’s show was tenkara. Tenkara USA, Badger Tenkara, and Three Rivers Tenkara were there besides TenkaraBum. Streamside Leaders is almost a fixture at the Sowbug Roundup but they were unable to attend this year.

All the tenkara vendors gave presentations, which accounted for most of the seminars at this year’s Roundup. I snuck in a presentation on keiryu fishing, which was pretty well received despite being a bait fishing technique, and despite technical difficulties and lapses in planning.

My back-up presentation, which I had to give from my iPad because my laptop couldn’t talk to their projector, didn’t have the latest revisions I'd made to the presentation and didn’t even have all the slides. A big thanks to Daniel Galhardo of Tenkara USA for lending me the doohickey that was necessary for even the iPad to work. It had worked perfectly last year, but one dodgy connector can render even the best technology worthless.

A White River rainbow - first fish on the Suntech TB 63. (Vern Berry photo)

Of course, you can’t (or at least you shouldn’t) venture to Mountain Home without fishing either the White or the Norfork Rivers - or both. I got to fish both Rivers with Alan Luecke, Vern Berry and Matt Sment, and we were joined by Anthony Naples on the Norfork.

It turned out the fishing was much better on the White, and while it seems only right and proper to blame the Norfork skunking on Anthony’s presence, in all probability it was the incessant wind, which ruined our drifts, and the pressure from so many other anglers. Where we fished had been pounded all day by the time we arrived (after the show closed at 4PM Saturday). The wind, though! It was the only time I have had to use four BB shot on a keiryu rig, and at times even that wasn’t enough to offset the wind. My standard keiyru rig is one BB shot.

TenkaraBum 36

The highlight of the show was one woman, new to tenkara, who decided that the rod she really wanted was a TenkaraBum 36. When I packed the rods to take to the show I brought one each of the TenkaraBum and Tenryu tenkara rods, plus as many 5.4 and 6.3 meter keiryu rods as I could fit in two suitcases (while still leaving room for boots and waders).

However, I forgot that I had promised to donate a TenkaraBum 36 for the three-day silent auction. Thus, from the start of the show, my booth was missing a TenBum 36. Luckily, Alan had brought his, which we used as an example that could be seen and wiggled, but not purchased.

She saw it, wiggled it and wanted it. I told her all she could do was purchase one from the website, which I would ship when I got back home. Well, she had a better idea and made sure she was always high bid at the auction. At the end of the show, she proudly showed me her prize! Made us both very happy.

Almost as nice was again seeing a customer who is about as crazy as I am and is the only guy I know who has bought FOUR “I’m just here for the gear” bumper stickers (one of which he bought at the show, and then promptly gave away to a guy who clearly wanted one but might not have bought one himself).

That really is one of the best aspects of these shows. It isn’t possible to sell enough to offset the full cost of attending a show, but seeing the people I interact with on the website more than makes up for it.

Roaring River Trout Park. (Alan Luecke photo)

The highlight from a fishing standpoint came the day following the show. Alan and I joined Jeff Dannaldson at the Roaring River trout park in Missouri. The Missouri trout parks are pretty similar to some of the pay-to-fish "areas" in Japan. The Missouri trout parks are state run rather than private, but like the Japanese "areas," they are carefully managed and heavily stocked.

Jeff is planning to start a keiryu guiding service using Daiwa Seiryu X 64 rods and I wanted to fish with him and try the Seiryu X 64 seiryu rod for keiryu fishing. Well, unfortunately, the trout park had gotten badly flooded last year and the bait section was closed because the banks in that section were still unstable.

Thus, we fished in the artificials-only section. I started with a Tenryu Rayz Integral RZI50UL-4 and some Daiwa Lupin spoons. I got follows but no takes until I put on a Horizon spoon and cast it to just where the overflow from the hatchery might wash in a few stray pellets. The brown and orange Horizon isn’t quite a perfect match for the “pellet hatch,” but it was close enough to fool one small trout who hit it just after it hit the water.

Bead head white Killer Bugger.

I then switched to a Daiwa Seiryu X 64 and started cycling through flies to find one that the fish hadn’t already seen a thousand of that weekend. The winner proved to be a bead head white Killer Bugger (in a larger size than shown above). Alan put one on also and we both had reasonably good luck after that.

A friend says it is his favorite fly. He can usually see it under the surface, and that means he can see the fish take it. That proved true on Sunday. All takes were seen. I find that more exciting than fishing a dry fly because with a dry fly you don’t always see the fish coming for it from over a foot away.

The Daiwa Seiryu X 64 handled the stocked rainbows easily.
(Alan Luecke photo)

Interestingly, the fish’s predatory instincts were clearly visible. If it didn’t move they weren’t interested. They weren’t interested in anything that moved towards them. They were interested if it moved away, and very interested if it accelerated, as if it knew it was being chased and wanted to get away.

The highlight, though, was when Alan spotted a sculpin. We then forgot the trout and started fishing for sculpins. It turns out they are aggressive! You have to either see a sculpin or find a rock that looks like a sculpin could be hiding under it.

Drop a fly within a couple inches of the sculpin or a couple inches of the rock. If one is under the rock and sees the fly, it will come out and grab it, but it won’t go far from the safety of the rock. Not all rocks had sculpins, but enough did to keep it interesting.

Banded sculpin, caught with bead head white Killer Bugger.

A bead head white Killer Bugger in a reasonably small size (14 or smaller) worked pretty well. The fish saw the fly as food. We saw the fly and the take. We both caught several. Not only had I never caught a sculpin before, I had never even seen one other than in photos or videos. Their camo is just about perfect! If you don’t see them move you have to know exactly where the are or you'll never spot them.

The Japanese use fixed line rods to fish for sculpins. It is micro fishing, but it is completely different than tanago fishing. Picture a three foot rod with a three inch line that has a split shot and a hook baited with a salmon egg! Poke the rod tip right down by or between the rocks and wait for a bite. I may have to look into getting some sculpin rods!

We didn't have sculpin rods, so we just lowered the beadhead flies from our regular rods. Having a sculpin rod would have made the fly placement much simpler, though!

My DIY three-foot, one-piece sculpin rod.

A year or so ago I made a sculpin rod, based on photos of the Japanese rods. It is a three-foot, one-piece rod made from an ice fishing blank. The orange tip and orange lillian should be easy to see when it is poked around the rocks on the bottom. I haven't used it yet, but catching the sculpins in Missouri was fun. I may start taking it with me when I go fishing. I'll definitely look more carefully for sculpins in the future!


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