Article by Chris Stewart
One of the most frequent questions I get at fly fishing shows is whether I have rods for steelhead. There are fixed line rods designed for salmon and steelhead, but at $600-700 for a Daiwa Salmon Special, no one yet has taken the plunge. For some time, though, I have thought that a carp rod might be sufficient and last year I started carrying carp rods – obviously for carp fishing (which John Vetterli says is “just too much fun”) but also for steelhead and schoolie stripers.
I haven’t had a chance to get upstate to try for steelhead, but in late May George Roberts, friend, fellow tenkara angler, and fly casting instructor, organized a striper weekend for me. We were joined by Brad Clark, and from the way Brad and George heckle each other, you can tell that they fish together often. The plan was to fish the Bass River on Cape Cod and both South River and Cohasset Harbor on the South Shore (the shoreline south of Boston).
George gave me some Tabory Snake Flies to use. A Tabory Snake Fly has a stacked deer hair head and collar, marabou body and an ostrich herl tail with a few strands of flash. The flies George tied were over 5″ long. The one shown above has a body of arctic fox as a substitute for marabou.
Although a 5″ fly is not what one would normally cast with a tenkara rod, with a carp rod and a 6m Nissin PALS SP Pro line it was really pretty easy. The casting stroke with a 5.4 or 6.3m rod is long enough and the SP Pro line is heavy enough that the big, bulky fly turned over nicely. Truth be told, I think the tightly packed deer hair head (especially when wet) makes the fly dense enough that you could probably cast it pretty easily with a size 4 fluorocarbon tenkara line.
The Bass River wasn’t a blow-out but it wasn’t a skunking, either. I would guess I caught five or six stripers, all pretty small. Brad probably caught as many with his fly rod. The stripers were big enough to put a bend in my Suntech Field Master Honryu 81 but not nearly big enough to require a carp rod.
The following day we fished the South River and did get skunked – not even a swirl, let alone a take. After the South River, we went to a place I shouldn’t name. George said it wasn’t a particularly interesting place to fish but it’s one where he’s never been skunked. For fear of jinxing it – or perhaps thinking that I would feel too much pressure, he didn’t tell me until afterwards that his perfect record was riding on me catching a decent fish.
I fairly quickly missed two light hits. Finally getting the fly in just the right spot, I got a solid take and was into a fish that was nothing at all like the fish we caught in the Bass River the previous evening. George had warned me to use the rod rated for the strongest possible tippet. That was the Nissin Red Dragon, with a 2X tippet rating. I had planned to bring a Nissin Kyogi, which has a 0X rating, but I sold my last one just two days before the trip!
The fish tried to turn downstream but the Red Dragon was able to prevent it from making the turn. Between the fish and the current, the rod had a very deep bend but I never felt like it was at its limit.
The current was an issue, but sharp rocks were a bigger concern. I could feel the line rubbing on the rocks and thought it might break at any minute. Before too long, though,the fish started to tire and I was able to slide it into some shallow water and then lip it. George guessed it was about 24 inches. Comparing the length of the fish to a known length on the rod, it was actually just over 25 inches – my largest fish to date on a fixed line rod.
We did fish one other spot, but for me that one fish had already made the trip and by then it was getting on towards dinner time (or at least cocktail hour).
The next morning, we got up at 4 AM to fish Cohasset harbor at low tide. When we got there, another guy was just suiting up. He got there first, and I was concerned that he would have the best spot. I needn’t have worried. Before too long, stripers were busting the surface all around us. We had waded out no more than about knee deep, and not only were they within easy reach of the Nissin 2-Way 620ZX stiff, at times I was casting parallel to the shore and hooking up.
I lost count of the stripers I caught, and before long didn’t even think of the numbers. I was more concerned with the number of fish I was missing. At times I was probably too fast and pulling the snake fly right out of their mouths, and at times was too slow and they spit it out. They were persistent, though! An immediate cast back to the swirl or splash of a missed hook set was usually met with another take. I have no way of knowing if it was the same fish, but it didn’t matter.
After catching more fish than I ever could have expected, I had to call it quits. I was getting hungry. Let me tell you, it’s not often that you have a “many” day — before breakfast!
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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