Last Sunday and again yesterday I took Vagabox to the West Branch of the Croton River, which is my
favorite of the streams that are easily accessible via New York's Metro North
commuter rail system. It is a tailwater, draining the West Branch reservoir into
the Croton Falls reservoir. Being a tailwater, it enjoys relatively constant
temperatures and relatively constant flows. Despite being a tailwater, though,
it is still a small stream. I don't know of any spot on the stream where I could
not stand midstream and fish bank eddies on both banks. Even better, there
aren't that many places where if I stood midstream I'd be over my hippers.
Best of all, though, is that it gets relatively little fishing pressure. I
suspect the main reason for that is that the fish run small. I can usually
count on one "keeper", which on that section of the West Branch is 9", but most
fish will run about six or seven inches. Since I don't mind fishing for small
fish, I'd have to say I'm happy that most anglers do.
Vagabox is a traveling fly box, the dream child of "acheateaux" on the TenkaraUSA forum. Anglers get the box for two weeks before mailing it to the next angler on the list. I got it from a guy in Pennsylvania (handed to me personally while we were both in Utah) and I will send it on to a guy in Nevada. The box does get around.
The rules are simple. Fish the flies, replace those you lose, and add three more before sending it on. If you get the box (and sign-ups are now going into the second year) you will fish flies you don't normally fish - or may have otherwise never fished. Of course you might find some old friends, too. I was pleasantly surprised to find a pink San Juan worm, which I used to fish a lot and on which I've caught a lot of fish, but which I haven't fished in years. It was the first fly I tied on and before long I had my first fish.
The second fly I tried is one I probably never would have fished otherwise. I have fished eyeless flies, but I don't have bright orange silk cord with which to fashion eyes. Still, it caught my eye, and it caught my second fish. A number of the flies in the box were chosen because they caught my eye. They were different flies than I usually fish.
The third fly I tried is one that reminds me of Daniel Galhardo's version of the Ishigaki Kebari. I tie and fish the Ishigaki Kebari, but I don't tie it quite like Daniel does. (I had initially thought the fly was one Daniel had tied, but upon reading the Vagabox logbook more carefully I realized that the flies he had contributed were not the ones I had thought they were.)
How we tie the Ishigaki Kebari is not the only area in which we differ. I do not fully agree with a comment that he made in the logbook that accompanies Vagabox. He fished a fly until he caught a fish, then tied on a different fly and fished it until he caught a fish. He caught a fish on every fly he tied on. As a result, his conclusion was that the fly doesn't matter.
I think the fly matters, and sometimes it matters a lot. I also started out fishing a fly until I caught a fish, and then switching to a new fly until I caught another. I noticed a distinct difference in the effectiveness of different flies.
Someone might very reasonably say there's no way to know. The next cast might yield a fish whether you have the same fly or a new fly. That is true, but in this case there is an interesting wrinkle. Many of the flies were tied on barbless hooks. I have a devil of a time catching fish on barbless hooks. Most of the fish I catch in the West Branch are 5-7" long and are too light to keep them in the water on even a soft hookset and raising of the rod to bring them to hand. To me, a fish isn't "caught" until it is in the net, and with barbless hooks, only about half the fish I hook make into the net (the percentage goes way up as the fish get bigger, but for me a 5" fish on a barbless hook is soon to be a 5" fish off a barbless hook.
Why this matters is that for some flies, I went a long, long time between strikes and for other flies I got strikes right and left before I got a fish into the net and changed flies. I fish this stream a lot, and by now I have a reasonably good idea of where to expect fish. Catching fish in unexpected places is one thing, and not catching fish where you expect to is something else again. Some flies were clearly better than others.
Daniel is also perhaps the country's biggest proponent of the "one fly" school of thought - which basically says you only need one fly and the key to success is learning how to manipulate the fly to draw strikes rather than changing flies to match the hatch or the fish's mood at the time. Presentation rather than imitation.
A large number of people, largely fly fishermen who have made a science out of matching the hatch, disagree with that school of thought and believe that one fly cannot possibly be the answer. Well, there's another interesting wrinkle. Daniel has a very good fly. The fly that reminded me so much of one of his flies was without doubt one of the two best flies in the box. Of course, the damn thing was barbless, so before I caught my one fish, I had hooked several, missed several more, and watched a surprising number of fish actually chase it down to smack it.
The other fly in the box that was a real standout was Ashley Valentine's Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari. What a great fly. This is where I stopped changing flies and started changing lines and tactics and going back to fish Daniel's fly some more with different lines and different rods. (For clarification, the Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari is Ashley's design. I don't know which of the anglers who had Vagabox before me actually tied the fly. The fly I refer to as Daniel's was probably tied by someone else, but reminds me quite a lot of a fly he ties.)
In addition to fishing different flies from the Vagabox, I also spent the day last Sunday doing a 2.4m "shoot out" fishing three different 2.4 meter (roughly 7'8") rods. They were the Soyokaze, Kiyose and Kiyotaki. The three are very different. The Soyokaze has a very soft tip but then stiffens up in the mid and butt sections. The Kiyose is relatively stiff throughout, and the Kiyotaki is softer than the Kiyose, but has neither the soft tip sections nor the reserve backbone of the Soyokaze. I fished the Soyokaze and the Kiyotaki with a size 3 line and the Kiyose with a size 4.
Why this matters is that I discovered that the line has an impact on how you fish a fly, or rather, how you will be fishing a fly may impact your choice of line to use. The fly I had thought was Daniel's was effective both dead drift and pulsed, with pulsed being somewhat more effective, whereas Ashley's fly was much, much more effective fished dead drift. I think the filmy part of the starling feather moves when fished dead drift but gets pasted back along the hook shaft when pulsed. I ended up fishing "Daniel's" fly with a size 4 line and the stiffer Kyoise, and fishing "Ashley's" fly with the soft-tipped Soyokaze with a horsehair line that was really too light to cast well but which could easily be kept off the water's surface and weighed so little it didn't impart significant drag from line sag.
If you will be fishing a somewhat larger fly and will be manipulating it, you can effectively fish with a heavier line. If you will be fishing a smaller fly dead drift, you would be better off fishing with a lighter line. And if you will want to fish a lighter line, you will be better off with a softer rod. It follows that if you have a stiffer rod, and will thus be fishing with a heavier line, you would do better to fish a larger fly, either an unweighted fly that can be manipulated or a weighted nymph.
I enjoyed fishing with Vagabox. I fished a number of flies I never would have fished otherwise. I have a newfound respect for the one fly around which Daniel, or perhaps more accurately, Dr. Ishigaki, crafted his one fly philosophy. I reconnected with Ashley Valentine's Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari, which if you haven't yet fished, you should. (I am very unhappy that I am completely out of purple starling, because I want to tie a bunch for myself.) Also, I think I gained some insight on how the line weight and the fly manipulation interact.
Neither last Sunday nor yesterday was a "many" day, but the fish were more than willing, even though most were a bit small. Fine with me, it keeps most anglers elsewhere.