First trip out with a Tenkara rod.
Year's ago on F.A.O.L I wrote a series of articles called "A Newbie's Journey" which documented my fly fishing learning experience. Last night on the river felt like another chapter in that diary.
I got a call from Fly Fishing Specialties at lunch yesterday letting me know that the AYU rods were back in stock so I stopped by on my way home from work to pick up my new TenkaraUSA Ayu rod, some 3.5 level line (at Daniel's suggestion) and a line spool. I had already tied several sakasa kebari style flies with forward facing partridge hackle so I was ready to get on the river.
When I got home I looked closely at the fit and finish of the rod. It was beautiful in it's simplicity and the feel of quality. At T.J.'s suggestion (T.J., the director of TenkaraUSA customer support) I cut a level line the same length as the rod and then tied on 4 feet of 6x tippet and one of my flies. I went out to my swimming pool to practice casting. With the 98 degree weather I wished I was IN the pool practicing. As it turns out, that wouldn't have been a bad idea. Casting standing next to the water and casting waist deep in the water is a completely different experience.
I waited as long as I could for the temperature to drop and the shadows to lengthen before heading down to my local river, the Bear. After less than 10 minutes of driving and 3 minutes of suiting up in my waders I was ready to hike in. The sun hadn't set quite enough to put my main fishing pool into shadow yet so I hiked down a bit further to a small riffle with a two narrow, but deep, pools in the middle. I made a dozen or so cast into that pool and used the pulsing motion Daniel had talked about at the seminar I attended to entice the fish to take my fly. Just minutes into fishing I had my first brown trout. That was a great start to the evening. T.J. asked me to get photos so I tried to tuck the rod under my arm, hold the fish with one hand, and get the camera with the other (all while trying not to lose the fish or drop the camera in the water) but just as I was opening up my hand to get a better shot of the fish it flipped out of my hand and back into the river. Oh well, at least I had caught one. That's a good start.
I moved downstream to a big pool which looks fishy, but I've never really spent much time learning where the fish are in that pool. You can wade out a good 10 or 15 feet in knee deep water and then it drops off quickly into a 12' to 15' deep pool. The river rushes quickly on the far side of that pool so it should be bringing food right into that calm deep water. I cast into the soft water all over that area and couldn't get any response. I never even saw a fish rise. I changed to a dry fly so I could see my fly better and float it over some eddies behind some rocks but nothing bit. This might have been a good place to try a nymph.
I decided to move back upstream to my favorite pool where I often see fish jumping. The downstream end is really calm and extremely clear. You have to move very slowly or you send out ripples that spooks every fish for 20 yards. Fish were rising just out of my reach. I kept trying to shoot my line but I just didn't have my Tenkara casting technique down. I could get nice tight loops but I was overpowering my rod and the rod would wobble at the end of my cast pulling the line back and piling the line. I'm sure it's possible to lay out a straight line with a Tenkara rod but it must take more than 20 minutes of practice on a pool to learn how to do it. I kept remembering Daniel saying "less power, less power." But as my cast were failing I started losing focus, waving my arms too high and wide, and generally looking like a total newbie on the river and spooking every fish around me.
I saw several trout rising up stream so I got out of the water and moved up again. I found a perfect spot to sit down low where I could cast to the fish but not spook them. They kept slurping bugs but ignoring my dry fly. I realized that they must be taking emergers just below the surface so I tied my sakasa kebari back on and cast it out.
I caught one on my first cast. It was interesting to bring the fish in with the tight quarters of trees and brush around me. I had just got him to my hand before he shook the barbless hook and swam off. I cast again and immediately caught another one. Two brown trout on two consecutive cast! And this after having them completely ignore my dry fly.
I set the brown trout free and cast again. It only took 4 or 5 cast before I had another one on. At this point I'm realizing something about this rod. With my 4 weight I get a lot of strikes but I don't land the fish. I think my hook set may be pulling the fly out of their mouths. The Tenkara rod is so soft that this isn't happening. I'm landing every fish that strikes.
After landing the 3rd trout from that area the pool goes quiet. It's almost too dark to see and nearly all the rising trout have vanished. I see one more taking small sips about 25' away and cast to him but he's ignoring my fly. I figure it's dark enough to go home.
When I got back to the truck I notice that it had been almost exactly 2 hours since I left. I had fun with a new rod and a new technique and I caught 4 little brown trout. I learned that I need to practice my casting and that handling a Tenkara rod requires a very different sensibility than a western fly rod. It's definitely still fly fishing, but it's also a very different type of experience. It will take some practice and dedication to get use to this new equipment but I think the reward will be worth it.
I'm going to like this style of fishing.