Article by Jonathan Antunez
They say that the Devil will find work for idle hands to do. Whatever demon possessed me to tie up a few Oni Sakasa Kebari this past winter, had plans to hook me up all season on some much bigger fish than I was used to.
It was very late Spring 2019 in the Colorado Front Range. The winter had blessed Colorado with an unusually large snowpack and all the tail-water rivers were still bursting at the seams with this abundance of water. It’s a time of year I normally skip fishing. However, after a month of abstinence and no end in sight, it didn’t take much to persuade me when invited by a good friend to fish on the Big Thompson River. I brought my Oni sakasas, just in case.
Lesson 1: Runoff and Big Bugs
Runoff offers a very unique opportunity in trout fishing. It removes at least 80% of the river from your fish finding equation. The center flow is much too fast for a trout to feed in comfortably, so all your fish are right near the edges. This high flow also makes the larger Oni sakasa kebari the perfect fly to use, as it mimics the larger prey items, like stoneflies, that these fast currents dislodge from the bottom of the river.
I learned that it is absolutely vital to use a casting line either the same size as the rod or shorter. Bringing a big fish rod that can put pressure on the fish is also essential. Once hooked, a trout will try and dive for that faster current to escape. The shorter casting rig will give you a smaller arc to play the fish. You want to try your darndest to keep that fish in the slower water, but if he does manage to get past you, you’ll have to move quickly to swing him back into the shallows if possible. The first fish I hooked on the Big T was a real dandy, but I never got him to the net. My casting line was longer than my rod and suffice it to say, I wasn’t ready for this trout’s devious machinations.
My flies were a Size 10 and a 12 Oni Sakasa in dark colors; Black 6/0 UNI Thread on a 2x Long Dry Fly hook, a male Pheasant feather for the reverse wing, Wapsi Superbright Dubbing body in Black and Peacock. I returned many times to the Big Thompson in the weeks that followed, and those colors seemed to work best in the murky water. I had some amazing days and was completely sold on big reverse hackled kebari from then on.
Lesson 2: The Frying Pan and the Green Drake Hatch
Having heard all the legends of the dry fly fishing Mecca that is the Frying Pan River, your go-to fly probably wouldn’t be a size 10 nymph. Thanks to the infamous Green Drake that hatches in August, using big Oni sakasa kebari is not only possible but a very good idea; especially in the aforementioned peacock color. In a river like the Frying Pan, that gets a lot of pressure, it can never hurt to try and match the hatch, even though it’s not commonly a focus in tenkara angling.
Dead drift was producing fish, as was upstream sasoi. But swinging the fly in slower water was the real winner. It was while I was swinging the Oni that a sizable rainbow took up the chase behind it. In my head I remember warning myself not to set the hook until the fish closed his mouth, so I waited for the right moment. Mouth closed, hook set, fish on, and then off to the rodeo! I had to chase that fish about 3 holes downstream till I finally had her to the net. What a beauty! Oni sakasas were really sealing the deal. I had never fished one on the swing, but they work just fine when big bugs are hatching and scurrying to the surface.
Lesson 3: Digging Deep for Big Browns
It was one of those Fall days you wish could last forever. The big browns were moving up from the lower reservoir to begin their fall spawn. Thankfully, they weren’t bedding down yet, but many had staked a claim in every deep pool. The only thing really messing up my drifts was the wind. So, I switched to the heaviest level line I had, extended my tippet to 4 ft, and tied on an even bigger Size 8 Oni.
The goal was to run this fly as deep as possible, so the wind had less of a chance of moving my setup. This is where tossing the fly upstream of the plunge pools really saved the day. The challenge was detecting the strikes at that depth, as they weren’t always obvious. Most of the time it was only a subtle bump or hesitation. A small pulse is enough to determine if it’s a fish, a second hook set will seal the deal. Thanks to the enticement of the Oni sakasa kebari, it quickly became a magical day of pulling one large brown trout after another until I ran out of daylight.
There is one thing that I know for sure about Oni sakasa kebari: They attract bigger fish. For that, they have earned a permanent spot in my fly box. If you haven’t tried them yet, perhaps I can be the little devil that entices you to tie a few this winter. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
Jonathan Antunez is an avid angler, fly tyer, and student of Japanese tenkara who practices traditional techniques in the cold, mountain waters of Colorado. Instagram: @the_trout_conjurer
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019-2020 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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