Interview by Tom Bayly, Tenkara Adventure Outfitters
The tenkara community was recently greeted by some pictures of a very large pike caught with a fixed-line rod by Austrian angler Bernhard Niedermair. Once we heard about this fish, we reached out to Bernhard to see if he would tell his story. We are happy to report he agreed! I hope you enjoy this interview.
Tom Bayly: Thank you for agreeing to share your story. Care to give us a little background about yourself?
Bernhard Niedermair: My fishing journey began in 1966 by pursuing all kinds of non-predatory fish, pike, and perch, at Attersee (which is one of the biggest lakes in Austria) when I was a 7 year old boy. I really started to give in to my fascination with the traditional way of fly fishing in 1979. Through the years I was able to gather loads of interesting experiences fishing creeks, streams, rivers and stillwaters. In the winter of 2013 I got involved with tenkara equipment for the first time. Since 2014, my focus has solely been on tenkara.
TB: Could you give an overview of tenkara in Austria? Such as the culture, popularity, and other interesting information the readers may appreciate?
BN: Austria, specifically Upper Austria, is historically shaped by fly fishing and has a big community which is very invested when it comes to equipment. Also, licenses for fishing are quite expensive in Austria. Prices such as 180€ a day and up to 2000€ for licenses a year are normal. A lot of the good fishing waters are privately owned, which also makes it difficult to buy licenses.
Furthermore, tenkara was initially forbidden, as it was not really accepted as a form of fly fishing. When I started discussing tenkara in forums starting in 2014, I experienced a real shit storm for quite some time, as people were bashing tenkara, even though they had never fished it their entire life. However, through events and by creating an active network, I was able to improve the acceptance of tenkara. Now almost all fly fishing waters in Austria allow it.
Based on my contacts, I think that the tenkara community in Austria is very, very small. Only around 10 to 20 people seriously deal with the topic and actively engage in tenkara. Around another 20 to 30 people see tenkara as a nice addition to their fly fishing techniques and only 3 to 4 people fish tenkara exclusively.
TB: Everybody has their own reasons for participating in tenkara. I know for me it was the fun and adventure of using simple equipment. I tend to apply this towards much of my time in the outdoors both hunting and fishing. What attracted you to tenkara? Do you have any personal philosophies around this method of fishing?
BN: What has always bothered me with the traditional way of fly fishing is that its sold as elitist and many people go above and beyond to keep this image alive. Moreover, most people are of the opinion that the traditional way of fly fishing is difficult to learn.
In contrast, in streams with fish that are a maximum of 35cm in length, tenkara is a relatively easy way to fish, that does not require a big amount of know-how. However, when the focus shifts to bigger fish, those longer than 45cm to 50cm, it’s not so easy anymore. The success of landing the fish depends a lot on the angler themselves. It‘s only about the angler‘s experience and technique, since there is no relying on a reel or backing to compensate for insecurities or inabilities.
Through tenkara I am able to distance myself from this point of view and go my own way of fly fishing. This makes a day on the water so much more relaxing. Moreover, I have recently also gone into the direction of fixed-line fishing for big fish using my tenkara rods to discover for myself what is possible.
TB: What species are popular to target in Austria with tenkara equipment?
BN: In Austria we have many different landscapes to fish. Fish populations are endangered by herons, otters, and other natural predators, and a lot of effort is required by the owners of the waters. We have a variety of species of fish that can be successfully targeted with tenkara – the most popular being brown and rainbow trout. I do not only fish in streams, but also in rivers and still waters. I personally like to target all kinds of fish.
TB: You recently shared what many are considering one of the most impressive fish caught on a tenkara rod. That being the landing of a 40-inch pike. This has to be one of the larger specimens of fish ever caught on a tenkara rod? Is that the first time you decided to target pike? Or have you fished for them before?
BN: Since my childhood, pursuing pike has always been part of my fishing journey. First using a metallic fish lure, then with the standard fly fishing rod and streamers. However, I had only been able to catch pike with a maximum length of 80cm. However, last summer I went fishing for perch and more or less by accident landed two pike which were both almost 70cm in length. That moment was what encouraged me to try to pursue pike using tenkara rods specifically. Luckily I also have two friends that are very experienced in fishing for pike with standard fly fishing rods and were able to give me some tips.
TB: My understanding is you were in a float tube / belly boat. I love fishing with tenkara rods in this way. Can you tell us more how you utilize float tubes in your fixed-line adventures?
BN: For me, belly boats and tenkara rods are an extremely complex combination. If one specifically targets bigger pike, one also has to use rods that are more sturdy. Those large rods cannot be cast from the wrist due to the weight of ther rod, line, and streamer. When floating in a belly boat, one loses every opportunity to gather the strength needed for throwing the streamer from the legs and body, as there is hardly any resistance to brace against like there is on land. To compensate for this I use long rods, short lines, and rather thin streamers.
TB: With such a large fish, did it take you for a ride? How long did it take you to land the fish?
BN: Yes it did pull me quite a bit, but I did encourage it on purpose with my diving fins.This way I was able to have more control over its strength and wear it out. I think that if a pike is able to just slightly overcome resistance, it is less likely to try to flee in an explosive fashion. After about 15 minutes of intense fighting, it stopped resisting and I knew that I would be able to land the fish. After another 5 to 10 minutes it was finally in my net, soon to be released back to freedom.
TB: Can you discuss the other equipment you used – such as the rod, line, tippet and fly?
BN: My big fish setup looks like this:
- Rod: 4 – 4.5m / 7:3 flex
- Line: 3 – 4m furled Line
- Sinktip: 1.8m / Sink-rate 4 or 6
- Tippet: 1m Fluorcarbon #0,70 or #0,80
With this specific setup, casting a streamer is still possible. After the cast I let the streamer sink and by moving the rod back and sideways, I tug the streamer toward me. That, in combination with turning the belly boat, I am able to give the streamer a few more meters. I do not immediately make another cast. Due to sitting in a belly boat I can swim away from the sinking streamer to apply tension to the line, which I can then tug toward me again. I repeat this 3 to 5 times before throwing the streamer again. It’s simply a mixture between casting and dragging.
TB: What advice would you give others that wanted to pursue other large species of fish with a tenkara rod?
BN: I don’t really want to give specific advice as it really depends on the person fishing. However, I want to say that pursuing really big fish is a very difficult challenge for the tenkara rod itself. As such it should be approached with caution. My personal approach to learning the skills needed when pursuing bigger fish was to choose waters where I knew I would encounter big, but not enormously big, fish. This way I could get used to the situation. In general, I think that one should try to collect a lot of experience beforehand. This way one can then apply the gathered knowledge to more extreme situations and remain calm when pursuing and landing a big fish.
TB: That’s a good point. It’s important to point out these larger fish would typically be considered outside of what most tenkara rods are capable of. However it also demonstrates what good technigue can do as well. Not to mention being in a float tube provided a type of drag that you may not be able to duplicate on land. What’s the next adventure you have planned?
BN: I’m planning on going back to the same lake in autumn because I’m sure there are even bigger fish in there. However every hour and day I spend near the water, no matter which one or with which fish, is always an adventure. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open and the adventure will come on its own. For this I am very thankful, since not many people have the ability to spend so much time in such wonderful places in nature.
TB: Any other comments? Any blogs or websites you would like to mention?
BN: If you are interested in my tenkara journey and my ways of fishing with a tenkara rod you are welcome to visit my website tenkara-austria.at. All of the text is in German, but you can just use the translation function to read in your native language.
TB: Thank you for your time and the great pictures!
BN: Thank you for the invitation!
Tom Bayly is based in the Midwest and has been fishing tenkara for more then a decade. He is the owner/operator of Tenkara Adventure Outfitters and continues to sell and service the rods originally established by Badger Tenkara. Tom loves bringing new tenkara anglers into the sport by promoting greater adventures through simplicity.
Bernhard Niedermair is a true ambassador for the sport. He spreads his love for tenkara in Europe, particularly in his home waters of Austria. He can be found at www.tenkara-austria.at
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