September 24, 2018

Interview: Tyrone Espinoza, TyRoam Handcrafted Hiking & Wading Staffs

Today we're very fortunate to have Tyrone Espinoza of TyRoam Handcrafted Hiking & Wading Staffs stop by Troutrageous! for a quick chat. I've been a fan of Ty's work from afar ever since stumbling on photos of some of his beautiful wading staffs on Instagram this past summer.


It's been fun following some of Ty's adventures on social media over the last few months, including what looked like a very productive International Fly Fishing Fair in Boise, Idaho which made me want to reach out and learn more about his products and company.

I'm definitely looking forward to purchasing my first TyRoam wading staff in the not too distant future, and after reading this I think you'll be more than tempted to do the same. Enjoy!


Hello Ty, please tell us a little bit about yourself; where do you live, what is your background in the outdoors, be it hiking, fishing, or otherwise?

Growing up in Redondo Beach, Southern California in the 1960’s and 70’s, I have lived and played in the outdoors since I can remember - the original Coppertone baby. At a very early age of 7 or 8 years old I took to fishing big time. I remember saltwater fishing for bonito and yellowtail with my little brother Mark in King Harbor Marina using ultra-light spinning gear with 6-pound test. Fighting some pretty serious sportfish with our reel drag screaming and chasing down fish in order to land them. - and we landed plenty!


I’m pretty much a traditionalist and have always had a fondness for the outdoors and working with my hands - especially woodwork. Fast forward, today my beautiful bride Rosie and I live in Sacramento, California where we are very active cycling, weight training, hiking, gardening, ocean fishing, fly fishing, and tenkara - fixed-line fishing. Oh, I should also mention helping care for our small grandchildren, they’re a ton of “energy” - code for crazy wild! We love them.



Can you give us some information about your business, how & when did it start, what was your inspiration, etc…?

I began dedicating time to launching my business: TyRoam Handcrafted Hiking & Wading Staffs in early 2017 shortly after I retired from California state government as a healthcare administrator. Although, I really started field testing my handcrafted hiking/wading staffs several years prior and continually making modifications from lessons learned on and off the water.


I paid attention to all the little details I encountered during use such as leash length, best types and densities of wood, lengths of staff, different types of grips, different types of waterproof glues and varnishes, etc... I applied all the years of my field testing experience and acquired knowledge into the development and evolution of my wading staffs. I already have plans for the next evolution... it’s an ongoing journey. The old adage... once you stop learning you start dying... yikes!

The initial inspiration that provided the catalyst was when I was first looking to purchase a wading staff at local fly fishing shops I saw cheap uninspiring wooden staffs that weren’t more than overgrown Tinker-Toy sticks that were grossly overpriced. That is when I decided to make my own and put all those years of high school wood shop to use, only about 40 years later. In addition, it was a great outlet to unbury the creativity that had been stifled from decades of administrative purgatory - working for "the man."


There are a lot of great products out on the market today; if you had to explain why somebody should consider one of your staffs over the competition, what would you tell them?

I let the beauty and functionality of my staffs speak for themselves. Once someone actually sees and “feels” the quality and uniqueness of my staffs then they come to realize how special each one truly is. Those that get an opportunity to pick up and hold one of our TyRoam staffs can feel the craftsmanship. With each one I build it seems like a little bit of my soul goes into them. Likely because I spend considerable time hand-sanding them that it almost seems I get personally attached to each one. It’s silly, I’ve even come to put nicknames to some that customers seem to enjoy hearing the story behind the inspiration. I’m not aware of any competition that can say the same or put that much passion into their products. It seems like today businesses are focused on decreasing materials costs and time in order to maximize profits. That’s definitely NOT what we’re about. In fact, we’re the complete opposite. Our TyRoam staffs are 100 percent handcrafted, which takes considerable time, and, we spare no expense in only using the FINEST materials. Our gratification comes from someone using our staffs.


On the more technical spectrum: I use Brazilian hardwood, four coats of superior marine grade varnish that undergoes a light 600 grit hand sanding between coats for a super silky finish, rubber motocross grips that get tacky when wet, premium marine grade shock cord for the leash that withstands the sun and won’t degrade from the weather, industrial 1/8 thick vinyl tubing to protect the lower part of the staff from being wedged between river rock and low lying brush, and where the leash is piped into the wooden staff it is infused and encased with epoxy so it’s totally cemented and waterproof both inside and out.


As for the wood staining techniques I use to come up with some incredible designs... let’s just say it’s at the journeyman level. Oh, there is so much more at the micro level that are invisible to 99 percent of folks. One good example of this are the hog rings I use to bind the marine shock cord. I use galvanized rings that are rust resistant to further enhance the durability and functionality, then I use not one but two applications of commercial grade adhesive vinyl heat shrink wrap around the rings to form the leash. Yes, this is overkill, however, I design and make my staffs to be passed on from one generation to another. Plus, some of us Virgos by nature can be over the top - ha!


It’s all these details and my unwavering quality inspection that goes into each TyRoam staff. And, for those that like metal collapsible, folding, and, telescoping staffs... good luck! I’ve had these fail on me wading across mid currents only to have it get stuck between some rock and fully separate when trying to pull it free. Nothing against metal staffs... they serve a purpose. Frankly, I make my staffs for those that appreciate things made from natural materials, and, that recognize genuine craftsmanship and know they are holding something truly unique that speaks to their souls.


In your opinion, what makes a great hiking staff and/or fishing staff? Is there a difference between the two?

A staff that feels comfortable, durable, functional, and has the structural integrity to help you out of a challenging situation. Yes, in my opinion, the difference between a hiking and wading staff can be attributed to the weight, waterproofing, grip types, length, and type of material used on the base of the staff. I design and build my staffs to be more stout with a bit more density. I pay careful attention to the weight of my staffs so they can be fairly universal for both hiking and wading, however, leaning a bit more towards wading. I also use materials and applications more suited for wading, however, they double as nice extras for hiking as well. A couple examples of this are using waterproof marine varnish and motocross grips... they’re both nice extra compliments for hiking as opposed to a standard polyurethane finish and less expensive vinyl grip.



I noticed in your Etsy shop you also sell some tenkara flies (kebari), how did you find tenkara and what do you enjoy about it?

I was introduced to tenkara several years ago by a fellow fly fishing club member while fishing on the East Walker River, in California. Fortunately, he was very skilled in tenkara and taught me the fundamentals that helped tremendously in making the adjustments from traditional single-handed fly fishing to the tenkara fixed-line method. What I enjoy most about tenkara is the simplicity and that one doesn’t need a lot of gear.


My bride Rosie really likes it too for pretty much the same reasons. I also enjoy making the various tenkara type flies and learning how to fish them. Tenkara has also helped me in becoming a better fly fisherman. It has taught me to be more stealthy when approaching the water, especially when wading since you only have a limited reach with the fixed-line approach.


What is your favorite part about operating a small business such as TyRoam?

This may sound really corny... however, It never gets old hearing all the compliments from folks on how beautiful our hiking and wading staffs are. Rosie and I really like engaging with folks while participating at fly fishing fairs and expos - this part of the business is a lot of fun. On the subject of metal staffs... I don’t feel that any metal hiking/wading staff can impart such human emotion compared to a beautifully handcrafted hardwood staff. Especially when passed on as an heirloom or even a gift to a loved one.


Also, we here at TyRoam take into account how important it is to have plenty of our hiking/wading staffs built and designed for women. We’re not talking making them “girly,” however, having a staff with a touch of elegance yet outdoorsy flare that is also a 100 percent fully functional workhorse. It’s nice being the owner and calling the shots to equally include hiking/wading staffs designs for women.


What do you see in the future of TyRoam Hiking & Wading Staffs? Are there any short or long-term goals you’d like to share?

In the very near future, I’ll be introducing an additional leash option to the lineup - a full shoulder strap. I think this will be very cool and really compliment my staffs. Here again, evolution as to functionality. Also on the horizon, I have a prototype for handheld wooden fishing nets, and, carbon composite fishing nets. For this venture, I plan on repurposing materials to lessen our carbon footprint. When available, I’ll have them on my Etsy.com shop and search: TyRoam



Quick “fun” question – if travel & resources were of no concern, what would your “ideal” outdoor adventure look like?

Hiking and fishing of course, then ending the day with an ice cold Sierra Nevada pale ale and some smoked salmon. I would love to go on an extended full-service fishing excursion in a remote area of Wyoming during the fall to experience all the colors and beauty of nature hand in hand with my Rosie to share the experience. Did I mention, I’m also a romantic at heart too?


Finally, do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share that weren’t covered in the previously asked questions?

Yes. When engaging with both men and women it surprises me to hear some say “Oh, I don’t need a hiking/wading staff ... I’m not there yet.” Meaning, that somehow age and debilitation is associated with needing assistance from a hiking/wading staff. I don’t argue and simply let these folks pass. However, I think to myself that they’re missing the opportunity to ACTUALLY being able to perform better during their hikes and wade fishing WITH a hiking/wading staff.


I’m a very athletic guy, at least in my own mind, and I use my TyRoam staff for bushwhacking through thorny wild berries, parting a path through poison oak, climbing up and down railroad track embankments, wading through some pretty good river currents to fishing holes I would not be able to usually reach without having to swim to. In fact, one summer while on the lower Yuba River a juvenile rattlesnake was resting along the river's edge right in front of my favorite fishing hole. So, I took my wading staff and extended it as far forward as possible and very gently nudged the rattler that soon departed - then, I dropped into my spot and started fishing.

So, my long-winded point is that a hiking/wading staff is a very functional tool, and, tools are designed to make things easier and when used correctly be more efficient - it’s not a sign of being handicapped.

It’s truly been a pleasure to participate in this interview and share our TyRoam story - we’re grateful. We’re simply a very small independent home-based family business... a throwback to old-fashioned values with the nostalgia of old Americana.


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Hey... it's Troutrageous Mike again... In closing, I just wanted to thank Ty for taking the time to do this short interview and allow us a peek behind the scenes of his company, TyRoam Handcrafed Hiking & Wading Staffs. I wasn't compensated in any way to publish this interview, I simply appreciate the small business and entrepreneurial spirit within the fly fishing industry. If this is something my readers find interesting, I'd love to feature more folks like Ty in the future. So, if you know anybody that fits the bill, just let me know.

September 17, 2018

Three Highlights from IF4

Two Fridays ago, the International Fly Fishing Film Festival (IF4) hit Jacksonville, in concert with Blackfly Outfitters' Floodtide Festival weekend. The IF4 viewing was held at the Univerisity of North Florida and was brought to the area by Bullsugar.org (more on them at the end of this post).

While the turnout was respectable, but a little on the light side, the videos were phenomenal, and somewhat surprising to me, were very "trout and char" in nature. I probably incorrectly had it in my head that the videos shown were tailored to the locale, so I figured we'd be watching a lot more from the salt.


Either way, the content was phenomenal, and while the thought of a few hours of fish porn and grip n' grins might turn off some, pretty much all of the films had a story to them, and I'd say the large majority were free of bass-thumping or techno-driven soundtracks.

Three of my favorites were as follows:

Ty's Flies


A short film about a young angler who overcame a personal disability to become a first-class salmon fly tyer. This is the kind of story that tugs at your heart-strings, especially when he gets to actually go fishing for Atlantic salmon for the first time.


Seriously North


This movie makes me want to drop everything and go find some Arctic char. It follows some anglers' quest to find outrageously sized char, basically in the middle of nowhere up in the Arctic circle. The mix of desolation, extreme cold, and unresponsive fish all seem to want to derail the trip... until they finally crack the code in a BIG way.


Confluentus: The Merging of All Things


I'm pretty sure this was my favorite film of the batch because it was by far the most relatable. Anglers who strap on their backpacks, go off the grid and go find their own adventures... in this case, bull trout in wilderness waters. It shows you don't need to have a lot of money to have an incredible fishing experience, as long as you put the work in to make it happen.


Now I'm not sure if any of these films can be viewed in their entirety yet outside of the IF4, so I'm really just planting the seed by sharing these preview embeds. If the IF4 isn't coming to a town near you soon, I'm certain these will be made available to the public sometime in the future. Make a point to see them all, they're each fantastic stories in their own way.

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In closing, I did want to put out a little commercial for Bullsugar.org, especially if you're a Floridian reading this post. It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or Republican, the way water is being managed in the state of Florida is highly suspect, and that's being kind.

According to their website:

"Bullsugar.org is a grassroots organization founded by Stuart residents in August 2014 on the belief that stopping the damaging discharges to our coasts and restoring the Everglades is not a science or engineering problem. The science has been known for decades. Our problem is a political problem -- and it requires a political solution.

Using social media we are spreading the word that the only way to stop the destructive discharges and restore clean freshwater flows to Florida Bay is to acquire land in the EAA to reconnect Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. The River of Grass has been dammed and diverted to both coasts. Until the flow is restored southward, all three estuaries -- east, west, and south -- will continue to suffer, impacting Florida's tourism & real estate economy.

Bullsugar.org aims to empower voters to take back our water and government. Future generations of Floridians deserve a healthy River of Grass and clean water."

Even if you don't align 100% with Bullsugar.org's stances & solutions, simply put, with general elections coming up in November, get educated on the issues and what each of the candidates stands for. As residents of Florida, we can and should do better.

September 11, 2018

Tenkara Tuesday: Oh (N)Oni!

Welcome to Tenkara Tuesday.

I've been suffering a little bit of fishing withdrawal. It usually happens the weeks after I get away to fish. Wanderlust sets in and I tend to go into writing slumps. In an effort to try and kick that before it gets really bad, figured I'd share a few gear updates/observations that recently impacted my tenkara fishing... perhaps they'll come in handy for you as well (if applicable).

A Broken Oni Type III

First off, I didn't mention in my recent "Mountain Medicine" post that I busted my Oni Type III tenkara rod when I was in North Carolina... yeah, that sucked. My heart immediately sank in my chest.


It's never an enjoyable experience breaking a rod, but when it's due to your own carelessness...ugh. Well... that just compounds the shame. Fortunately, my loss is potentially your gain, as I would like to pass along a great experience with the Team Oni USA shop, the online retailer that now sells Oni rods, as well as services parts.

That section shouldn't be two pieces  :(

After a few dejected emails on Labor Day, John Vetterli had my replacement section in my hands in two days. That's some good, speedy service if you ask me. There's actually a lot of great customer service from our larger community of tenkara vendors, and I'm glad to see this new resource is no exception. So fear not with your Oni rods, John has you covered - for a fee of course.


Breaking In The Orvis Ultralight Wading Boots

Yeah, these got wet for a few days as well. While this isn't a long-term review (two days of fishing), I'm happy to report that the boots I've been writing about pretty much perform as advertised. Extremely lightweight (hardly noticeable on the hikes in and out) and fairly grippy on those slick Appalachian rocks. I did end up adding screw in studs to aid a bit with the traction, but I've always done that on trips to the Blue Ridge.


The one thing that did take me a smidge to get used to is that the rubber soles are more of a lug style than what I'm used to, so when you hop around from rock to rock, you just need to be slightly more deliberate with foot placement to "feel" what's underfoot. That being said, the extra rubber indentations added a better level of grab and leverage when pushing off of rocks that I enjoyed.

Old wading boots (top), new Orvis Ultralights (bottom)

So while the primary review is good, we'll see how they handle over the long term before I truly pass judgment.


Sawyer, My Main Squeeze

I'm not certain if I've ever written about water filtration here before, but the more I use it, the more I absolutely love my Sawyer Squeeze filtration system. I've used other solutions in the past, such as a Lifestraw as well as water bottles that incorporated internal filters, but I just don't think there's a better, (or easier to use), system for the wading angler. Particularly one that has access to abundant cold water all around them.


In my opinion, it's the perfect size to quickly fill, grab a drink to keep you hydrated on a hot day, and then stow away small in your pack to the point where it's unnoticeable. It also saves you the space of not needing to bring a dedicated water bottle. I've heard some people have had some issues with the plastic water pouch/bag leaking over time, but I haven't had that experience yet, so it's all good by me.

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Are there any pieces of gear you that you find make your afternoon in the mountains more enjoyable? I would love to gather additional suggestions in the comments, as I'm always personally keen on learning ways to refine both the gear I use and wear, as well as what I keep inside my fishing daypack.



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ATTENTION TENKARA FISHERFOLK
Are you a tenkara angler? Do you have a story, pictures, video, fly recipe, or simply a fishing report from one of your recent tenkara adventures? If so, I'd really enjoy hearing from you for an upcoming Tenkara Tuesday post! Feel free to send an email HERE, I'd love to publish your original contribution.