Essay by Nick Pavlovski
As I have been taking my fixed line fly fishing more seriously over the last eight months, I’ve been reflecting on my equipment and my techniques that I employed in the past, compared to what I use and do now. I’m sharing them here as some readers may wonder if they should try some of the same things I decided to experiment with.
“Start off with dry-dropper until you can see what the fish prefer”
A very sound piece of advice, which I stumbled on after three months of fly fishing in general. I was wondering why, as Autumn rolled on and Winter was nearly on me, I was getting less and less takes each session on my dries. I had been fishing with dries only, because that is what tenkara seemed to be all about to me at that time. Somehow, I conveniently and repeatedly ignored Daniel Galhardo stating that kebari can be fished both on the surface as well as subsurface! When I began adding a nymph, tied onto the dry fly hook bend, I started netting fish again.
But then, I read somewhere (I think it was Discover Tenkara’s free tutorials) about rigging the following way: nymph on the bottom of a length of tippet, surgeon’s knot forming a small dropper loop about two feet above, and then attaching the dry fly to that small loop. All of a sudden, the frustrating problem of lost nymphs due to tippet sections sliding off my mashed-barb dry fly hooks was solved.
Is Your Nymph Really Doing its Job?
I was enjoying a fish-filled session one early Summer day when I suddenly saw both of my freshly-cast flies, the dry on its dropper loop and the nymph further down, floating towards my left leg.
I finished the drift, then checked everything with the nymph.
Have I spilled some floatant on it? ‘Don’t think so’.
Had the nymph hooked onto something buoyant? ‘No, the barb is clear’.
Was it just a one-off, then?
I re-cast. The nymph floated again.
Then I realized. I had lost the previous nymph in a deep run ten minutes earlier. And, it was a different type of nymph! What I had on my tippet now was a new pattern I had tied up. As it was based on a similar pattern to the lost fly, I thought it should sink the same as it. Well, they didn’t… the glass bead I had used was probably a blend of glass and plastic, not pure glass; and the very thick collar of hackle prevented the fly breaking surface tension effectively. At home next night, I set up a basin of water and tested the new nymphs… they wouldn’t consistently break surface tension and sink each time. The one I had tied on riverside was, unluckily for me, the worst of the lot, too!
All went under the scalpel. They were re-tied with some lead wire (and less wraps of hackle), and now all sink well.
Taking Too Long to Get on the Water
When I started out with tenkara, I would rig up my level line, tippet and flies the night before a trip. So, when I arrived, putting on waders and then getting onto the water didn’t take long.
Somehow, I then fell into the bad habit of loading the car the night before, but not pre-rigging my rod and spare line-holder. I then found myself losing at least ten minutes each session in getting onto the water and then standing mid-stream, awkwardly cutting tippet, tying knots and trying to securely attach my level line to the rod Lillian whilst the currents buffeted me and made me fumble…
Last month, browsing Jason Klass’s Tenkara Talk blog, I read about the time he saves by pre-rigging. At first, I dismissed it… but then later in the day, began thinking more and more about what I’d been doing when I arrived at my fishing spot… and realized he was right. I had stopped pre-rigging because I had become lazy…and in my head I decided the amount of time spent was the same, so there was no real difference when I did it…
But there was. I pre-rigged before starting drive to the river – before the start of the session. I began pre-rigging again, and now I’m getting extra fishing time.
Minimalist Fly Fishing
I used to be more minimalist. I used to only take one rod onto a river, with one spool of tippet, a pair of nail clippers to cut tippet, one box of flies, a couple of Band-aids / sticking plasters to deal with any cuts.
But then I began adding stuff. I’m in my mid-40s and fish alone. I was a workplace Designated First Aid Officer. I began to think about what would happen if I got hurt whilst fishing.
A couple Band–aids became a dozen, of differing sizes. My partner urged me to get an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) because of the near-misses I’ve had stumbling on slimy boulders and sliding off wet half-submerged logs. It is often the second thing I pick up and put on after parking the car, after my waders.
Carrying a rod in one hand only soon became carrying a rod in one hand and a re-purposed walking stick-now-wading pole in the other.
Masami Sakakibara carries a second rod when he fishes? I’d better too! Thanks Zimmerbuilt, now I carry a second rod nearly every session, strung across my back.
One small fly box became two small fly boxes when I began adding nymphs on dry-dropper rigs to help cope with late Autumn and early Spring fishing.
One bumbag with two ammo packs became a full fishing vest with multiple pockets and space for a three litre hydration bladder in its back compartment.
I got told about a wonderful secret fishing spot, but the person added at the end, “Lots of Tiger snakes and Eastern Brown snakes through there.” Both of those are extremely venomous, so the first aid kit got two snakebite limb immobilization bandages added to it (tripling its volume), with an extra two added to the boot of the car.
OK, I’m not minimalist. But I feel, for the most part, a whole lot safer.
It’s Not How Big Your Tool Is…
Size 12 flies. Stimulators, preferably with peacock herl bodies and blue and white barred rubber legs. Served me well for a good while.
But joining a fly-fishing club, and learning more about trout munchies showed me how limiting that was. And getting refusal slashes from fish meant I had to widen my choice.
I won’t do “one fly”, but I do try to severely limit what types and sizes of flies I carry. Tying my own flies is something I do now too.
I mostly carry my own Stimulator, in cream and orange with orange and black barred legs, sizes 14 and 16. Size 18 Klinkhammers, in brown. PHDs in cream, size 18. Elk hair caddis, 16 and 18. Size 16 and size 20 nymphs.
I went smaller fly sizes. They won’t stand out in a hatch, but in three years of fishing, I’ve never been in a hatch, so no loss (I mostly fish starting just after dawn until mid-morning). I’ve been hooking more fish because the smaller fish can seize small flies as easily now as the big fish can, and I’ve even caught tiny minnows who took a liking to the size 18 Elk Hair caddis. Good fun.
I lose flies on tree branches overhead. Amazingly, during my first session (with borrowed gear) in March 2017 I didn’t. However, once I got my own tenkara rods, I began to. I look at photos of the creeks and rivers American tenkara anglers fish in, and many of them seem to be wider waterways with foliage back from the bank (apart from Tom Davis, who loves fishing along horribly overgrown smaller creeks).
The creeks and rivers I fish have branches hanging a good few metres out over the water… and if the width is only 6 or 7 metres total, then that can mean only a clear metre overhead to cast… and of course the fish aren’t in the very middle.
So, I was losing flies back then and still lose some now. But I don’t lose as many, and I try pretty hard to retrieve them. (After all, I tied them and I’m on a tight budget… even a small loss is a nuisance!).
“Fish the Lightest Tippet You Can”
I started out with 5X tippet. That was what starter kits came with and that’s what others seemed to use (and promote).
But the trout in my favorite river were small, and they were never going to bust off a piece of 5X in good condition. So, I bought 6X. I could see and feel the difference, and now cunning trout could bust it when the river was running hard and fast.
I later bought a Tenkara Times Watershed 300Z for smaller waterways, and decided to up the ante. 2 spools of 7X joined their 5X and 6X siblings. Last year I was browsing the interwebs and read that Trouthunter had, in their new Evo line of nylon tippets, an 8X. Ka-ching!, and two spools of 8X were in the mail.
Now, a confession. The 8X has been in the boot of my car for a whole year and has yet to be wetted… but it will this Summer, even if I must force myself to use it. 6X remains my ‘go-to’ tipped unless I’m fixed line tactical nymphing. 8X is now for open creeks, as it too easily busts off when I get flies in trees – and I guess the 8X will be only for open creeks too.
Location, location, location…
I became fairly fixated on just fishing the same river, over and over, for one season. I fished it because it’s usually only fished by fly fishers (a very small subset of fishers here). And then only fished by a small subset of them. This is due to the amount of fallen timber from the last bad bush fires which make traversing its length dangerous (even with plenty of good studs on your boots). Also, there is a much more open and easily fished river only three or so kilometres away.
With so little comparable fisher traffic and exposure, the trout are more reckless with their attitude to flies and I became adept at using all my equipment and becoming skilled in techniques and tactics of tenkara and fixed line fly fishing in general.
As things in my personal life changed, I began to get whole days to myself, rather than just Sunday mornings. The next season I began to tire of fishing the same handful of beats (on rotation to fight off growing malaise). Inspired by old blog posts and fishing reports gleaned from extensive Google searches, I began to try other rivers, and even try creeks.
Now, I count three small rivers as my favorites that I can reach in a two hour drive, plus a number of creeks three hours away and then a couple more rivers and creeks four to five hours away. With more expeditions planned over the next four months (our Summer), expect that list to swell.
Does ‘minimalist’ also apply to spending money on tenkara? If so, I’m failing completely! All donations gratefully accepted ^_^
Nick Pavlovski started tenkara and fixed-line fly fishing in February 2017. He has uploaded videos of some of his older trips over at his YouTube channel, He’s currently interested in becoming a better fixed-line tactical nympher.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019-2020 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
Do you have a story to tell? A photo to share? Or a fly recipe that’s too good to keep secret? If you would like to contribute content to Tenkara Angler, click HERE for more details.
When you buy something using the retail links within our articles or Gear Shop, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Tenkara Angler does not accept money for editorial gear reviews. Read more about our policy.