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Thread: Tenkara Experience on the San Juan River

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  1. #1

    Default Tenkara Experience on the San Juan River

    I've posted this on other forums, but I thought I would share this with all of you.

    I've been using Tenkara Rod on the San Juan River (Tailwater below Navajo Dam in New Mexico) this past year, and have had great success. The the average length of the trout (Rainbow and Brown) on the San Juan is 17?. Here is what I've used:

    1. Tenkara USA Amago Rod 13.5 ft (made for bigger fish ? 18? and above)
    2. Tenkara USA Iwana Rod 12 ft

    1. Tenkara USA 4.5 Level Orange Fluorocarbon Line w/ Amago Rod
    2. Tenkara USA 3.5 Level Pink Fluorocarbon Line w/ Iwana Rod
    3. White Braided Mono 20 lbs w/ Amago Rod

    Set Up (I?ve used the Dry Fly and Dropper setup most of the time)
    a. Set the level line length about 1 foot less than length of rod.
    This helped me land the fish without having to ?Hand Line? them in.
    b. Place tippet ring on the end of the level line.
    c. Attach 3 ft of 5X tippet off the tippet ring.
    d. Tie the Dry Fly onto the 5X tippet (usually a Dead Chicken dry fly).
    e. Tie 12"? 18" of 6X off the bend of the dry fly hook.
    f. Attach Dropper Fly to 6X (usually a Bead Head midge or Brassie).

    Lessons Learned

    1. Using the Fluorocarbon level lines, I got great floats with the Tenkara method. Mending is as simple as lifting the line, which doesn?t move the dry fly, letting the dry fly and dropper pass by, and then letting the line down again. The Fluorocarbon line really helps with not moving the dry fly. The reason why I have two different color Fluorocarbon level lines is to easily distinguish the size of the line (3.5 vs 4.5). Both are very visible. The only problem with the Fluorocarbon, is that it sinks. So most of the time I dress it with Mucilin (green can) to keep it floating. On one occasion, I guess I was doing very well compared to other anglers, and got the comment, ?you are making it look easy?.

    2. Recommend Tenkara in places that you can wade (i.e. Braids, Upper Flats, Kiddie Hole, etc.). Although I have used it at Texas Hole and Baetis Bend with success. However, I do take a regular Fly Rod along for those places I can?t wade to (i.e. get close enough to reach the fish).

    3. Use the Braided Mono when the wind kicks up. The Fluorocarbon works well in the wind, but that braided mono really zips it out there in a stiff wind. However, the braided mono seems a little too heavy when the water is calm (fish shy away from it hitting too hard or can see it).

    4. I have used a two nymph rig with a yarn indicator and split shot. For the yarn indicator setup, I put on a level line of about 9 feet and a 4x tippet of 5 feet. To the 4X, I attached the 2 nymph rig (12? of 6X to 1st fly and 12? of 6X to the 2nd fly off the eye of the 1st fly). I placed a small split shot above the 4X/6X connection. For the indicator, I used the New Zealand Strike Indicator System (http://www.strikeindicator.com/) in order to adjust the length from the indicator to the split shot. It is a very good indicator system (don?t forget to put floatant on the NZ wool indicator material). I caught several fish on this rig, but I missed a lot of strikes. I experienced this with the Dry Fly and Dropper set up also early on, but eventually figured out how hard to set the hook with the Tenkara rod. I just need to spend more time with the yarn/split shot/nymph rig. I also haven?t tried it without an indicator ? sort of like Czech Nymphing. Darn, I?ll need to go fishing again.

    5. I?ve had fish run on me, but I was able to give a little by stepping/giving in the direction they were running and keeping the rod vertical. This seemed to disorient them and kept them close. The length of the rod also helped with the pressure coming from above the fish instead of the side. This seemed to cause the fish to go down instead of running to the other side of the river (i.e. away from side pressure). The Tenkara rod also gives a lot and may help keep the fish close.

    6. Tenkara makes me concentrate on the water within 30 feet of my position. This has allowed me to make more controlled, drag free presentations, and has caused me to be more observant on what is going on in the river. I also believe it has caused my catch rate to go up, hence more enjoyment.

    7. Tenkara can be used for big trout and may spook them less. The biggest fish I?ve caught with it was 21?Rainbow in the Upper Flats. In fact, I caught a 20? Rainbow my very first cast with the Tenkara rod. It took the Dead Chicken. One of my sons tried for that fish with a regular fly rod just a few minutes before I cast to it. It seemed the fly line spooked the fish a little since it came up for his Dead Chicken, but refused it. I don?t know whether or not the fish was spooked by him also. My son moved off while I was still rigging the Tenkara Rod, when the same trout showed up in front of me again. I was actually closer to the fish and it took my fly without hesitation. There was no line splash or thick line visibility with the Tenkara rod set up (I was using the Fluorocarbon level line).

    Overall, I like Tenkara a lot. However, Tenkara is not replacing my regular Fly Rod. It?s just another tool to solve another fishing situation. But I would say that I?m using the Tenkara Rod about 75% of the time.



    First SJ Trout Caught on Tenkara Rod

    Younger Son with SJ Trout Caught with Tenkara Rod

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Oklahoma City, OK, USA


    great report

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2006


    Nice report.

    What you are doing is obviously working so I don't want to suggest many adjustments, but I would urge not "letting the line back down." Keeping your rod tip up all the time (from the end of your forward cast to the start of your next back cast) will help you in three ways. First, you won't have to mend or grease your line to try to keep it floating (since it will not be on the water). Second, keeping the line in the air rather than on the water will improve your drifts by reducing drag (the greatest benefit of tenkara in my opinion) and third, it will greatly improve your hook-up ratio by keeping your line tighter and keeping it from being stuck in the surface tension.

    Your drifts will be shorter, but I do believe the advantages will more than offset that.

    You will find that to be hard to do with a 4.5 line. The lighter the line, the easer to keep it off the surface. Both of your rods will cast a 3.5 line nicely. I'd use it all the time (subject to wind, of course).

    Do try fishing without an indicator. That will also keep your line tighter and make hook-ups easier. I think you'll find that hi-vis line is all the indicator you need.

    You don't have to change anything. Fish any way you want. I think the above suggestions may help, though.
    Tenkara Bum

  4. #4



    Very good suggestion. I did do this at times and noticed I would get a good float. Sometimes it would do well and another times it didn't. I bet it was the difference between the 3.5 and 4.5 line. I eventually greased the line to make a longer cast, but I think it really had to do with not being able to hold the line off the water. Again, I think it has something to do with using a 4.5 line instead of a 3.5 line. At times, I also fished very very slow water (very little current) that may have lead me to greasing the line. Darn, I'll need to go fishing again and try it out.

    I do enjoy your web site and found it very informing. I have some additional questions:
    1. What do you think is the lightest line I can get away with using the Tenkara rods I have?
    2. What is the smallest fly that you have used fishing without an indicator? The flies used for the San Juan are #24 and #26. These flies are hard to get down to the fish without some type of weight. Hence, this is why I was using Bead Heads, but I have used small split shot. There is the possibility of using a heavier larger fly and then the smaller fly as a dropper. I’ve also thought of using a Drop Shot type of rig like Kelly Galloup’s rig (http://slideinn.com/blog/2014/02/dro...-dropper-loop/). Just curious if you have solved this problem.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2006


    With good casting form, you can use the lightest lines you can find. The size 3 lines I carry will work, as will TUSA's 2.5. The lighter the line, the more you need proper form to cast it, though. Heavier lines overcome a lot of casting flaws but the drifts are so much worse that the time spent on form is well worth t.

    The smallest fly I have used without an indicator is #32, although I haven't fished one that small very often. I do fish a #26 a lot more often, but only on relatively shallow streams. A 1/16" tungsten bead or a single #10 shot got it down well enough. For deeper water the addition of a heavier fly or a larger shot would have been necessary.
    Tenkara Bum

  6. #6


    What I find particularly interesting about this report is that you have been able to land big fish on 6X. My experience on the Madison river in MT this past summer was one of hooking many big fish on 5X but busting many off in the heavy flows. Once a fish is on and bolts straight out, it is difficult to get the rod vertical in time to save the tippet. I'm glad to see it can be done.

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