Zenmai or Fiddlehead Fern
by Terry Stoddard
Young fern shoots have a head that resembles the head of a violin, hence the name fiddlehead. Many different species of fern are covered in the cotton like fluff you are looking for when they are in the fiddlehead stage. These can be found throughout the U.S. and many other countries.
Harvesting is simple, you want to start looking in the spring, when all plants are starting to sprout new leaves. I found mine near streams and swamps, leading me to believe that they like a moist environment. Once you find some, simply peel the fluff off gently. Its easiest to remove just the loose stuff. It does not take much time to get a good supply, I spent about half an hour gathering enough to last me a year or two. After gathering, there is a drying time. Mine took about a month to turn into a light tan color with sort of an orange tint.
After drying, the fluff has a stiff, crumbly feel to it. To apply I first roll what I need to use between my thumb and index finger until it loosens up a little. After this, the cotton rolls onto your thread easily and stays there well. Wrap it around the hook shaft to form your body and your done. When on the hook the fluff has a fuzzy look to it that gives your fly a nice buggy appearance.
Fisherman who tie their own flies are always looking for new materials and techniques. The fiddlehead fern gives the angler an opportunity to experiment while paying tribute to Japanese tenkara fishers.