Interview with Brent Auger, DRAGONtail Tenkara
Interviewer’s Note: Of all of the leaders in the domestic tenkara industry, Brent Auger may be one of the more reserved. While he may not have the name recognition of a Daniel Galhardo or Chris Stewart, (and he’s certainly not as flashy as Luong Tam), his impact on the tenkara market in the United States cannot be ignored. It seems as if DRAGONtail Tenkara‘s footprint is growing by the day.
While I tried to get Brent as a guest on a Level Line podcast, he instead opted for a written interview. Regardless, I think you’ll find the following peek behind the curtain at Brent and DRAGONtail extremely entertaining and informative. I know I enjoyed this one a lot!
Michael Agneta: Brent, it’s great to catch up with you. I’m really looking forward to this interview. Thank you so much for agreeing to this, and letting the Tenkara Angler readership (and myself) learn more about you, your company, and your angling. I know you as Mr. DRAGONtail Tenkara, but I know there’s more to you than that…
I guess we’ll start at the beginning, what’s your (fly) fishing background?
Brent Auger: Actually before tenkara, I really did not have any fly fishing background. I grew up spin fishing for trout. I remember when I was a kid I would fish any chance I got, I couldn’t stay away if there was water near by to fish.
I really did not know what I was missing not fishing flies. Now tenkara and fly fishing is all I do because the rest has become boring in comparison (for me personally). Tenkara is what actually opened up the gate for me to learn fly fishing, and it was not that hard to pick up fly fishing after doing tenkara for a year.
MA: So how/when did you discover tenkara? What about it is appealing to you?
BA: I helped my friend Brandon Moon (Moonlit Fly Fishing) create a simple website to sell his furled tenkara lines and part of the payment for helping him was he gave me a tenkara rod setup. He took me out to help me get started and the first fish I hooked into felt amazing. I felt an addiction ignite with that first fish and I knew this was a hobby I would like to completely dive into. I think I found a way to go out fishing 5 times a week all summer long that first year because it was too fun. I wish I still had that kind of free time now.
I loved how easy it was to put the fly in spots where I knew the fish were without much finagling to get it there. The other big draw for me in the beginning was how awesome a fish feels on a tenkara rod, you are so connected that you feel every movement of the fish during the fight. These 2 things are what I remember appealing to me most in the beginning.
MA: Awesome, so Brandon is to blame! Today, what kind of waters do you fish, and for what species? (And what’s the deal with those GIANT fish you’re always posting pictures of on social media? They don’t even fit in your net!)
BA: I like moving water. I’m not much for lakes and ponds but I will fish them from time to time. I love to play currents, pockets, runs, bends, and all that comes with a small river or mountain creek. I mostly target trout and luckily Idaho, and its surrounding states, is full of trout fishing.
I know it is not really true “tenkara” but I love to use my tenkara gear on medium-small rivers, the kind that you can wade across. I love that I can wade up to a run and cast to the other side of the run with a perfect drift along the opposite edge of the run. On these rivers I commonly do use non-kebari flies. I mostly use soft hackle flies, beadhead soft hackle flies, and sometimes even streamers. By the way, streamers are very deadly with a tenkara drift and tenkara’s fly manipulation control to give it slight twitches.
I also fish a lot of mountain creeks where I find the tenkara style flies really shine. I love that feeling I get being somewhere away from the busy world and letting my mind zero in on the nature around me and tricking another trout into taking a fly I tied myself. I also like that it is easier to get a stretch of water all to myself.
I think I am split on which type of water I prefer to fish, I like both mountain creeks and small to medium-small rivers quite equally and it would be hard to choose between the two for me. I need them both.
Now about those large trout…
We have trout like that in our area so why not go for them. I actually find it easier to hook into large trout on a tenkara rod setup than I do with my rod and reel setups, mostly because I can get my fly in the right places with the right motion a whole lot easier. Landing large trout can get quite crazy and you must be fast to change to the right angles to keep them within control until you get an opportunity to bring them in. I try never to move my feet, except for maybe a step or two. I have become quite good at landing them but the adrenaline of being one mistake away from loosing a monster is addicting to me.
My largest trout to date on a tenkara rod is 27 inches, I have caught two around that length. My favorite all time catch though is a 23 inch cutthroat that I will never forget. It is a rush to play a large trout on a tenkara rod but the most rewarding part is that you get to admire them up close in the net and watch them swim away. I do love catching small trout but I don’t remember them like I do a large trout. When it comes to small fish fishing it is the location that I commonly remember most.
I don’t target big trout as much as I used to, but I still make a few trips out each year to find them. You can view quite a few of the large trout I’ve caught in the past at the bottom of my article “Big Fish Tenkara” tactics at FlyDestruction.com
MA: Wow, I can’t even comprehend fish that big. I think my largest fish on a tenkara rod was about 15 inches and it took all I had to control that fish.
I can’t imagine you have a ton of free time, but what are some of your hobbies/pursuits outside of fishing?
BA: I mainly just love being outdoors, whether it’s camping, hiking, biking, exploring, or whatever. Not really any specific outdoor sport particularly but just anything that gets me outdoors or in the mountains.
I also love basketball, of course I am 6’5” so I have a little bit of an advantage. I played competitively in leagues for many years but as I got into my 30s it became more of a social thing for me and I switched to just playing pickup ball for fun. After some basketball injuries around age 40 I decided to finally give it up and accept that I am getting old.
I also love food. I love to eat but I also love to create food. My other business helps a company called WonderMill sell home grain mills and mixers all over the world. As part of working with WonderMill, I also get to work with Chef Brad (America’s Grain Guy) who is an amazing teacher and I learn a lot of things from him. Because of Covid19 I recently helped Chef Brad in the process of moving all his cooking classes to be virtual, live on Zoom, and an archive on Teachable.
Probably my favorite thing to make is breads, usually whole grain breads with different flours I grind fresh. Whole grain pancakes are also a specialty of mine and I have created a quite a few of my own from-scratch recipes for them. I think breads and pancakes are my favorites because when I make them from scratch they tend to disappear very quickly, which gives me a satisfying feeling.
I try not to have much more hobbies than that because there is only so much time between work, hobbies, and family and my family needs to be a priority my life. I also have a son who has severe autism which sometimes makes it hard to include him in many of the hobbies I would like to explore as a family, so we tone down a lot of what we do so he is included. Autism is hard but it also comes with highs that exceed anything I can get in other pursuits of life.
MA: Family always first.
Do you have a favorite species to fish for and/or region of the country to fish in? Do you have a “dream” fishing destination?
The Northwest is my favorite region to fish. Between Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Oregon there is more than 10 lifetimes of great water to fish (especially when it comes to secluded mountain streams and creeks). I don’t really have a dream destination, my real fishing dream would be to be to just take off for 2 weeks and fish everyday all day in some of the wonderful creeks and rivers within a days drive from my house (in Southeast Idaho).
MA: People love to learn about other people’s gear preferences – what types of rods, lines, and flies do you prefer to fish? Do you have a favorite combination or what you might consider a particular tenkara “style”?
BA: I must admit, my preference changes a lot each year. Right now, there are 3 different rods I prefer most so I will break them down my current preference for each.
The NIRVANA 400 tenkara rod is probably my all-time favorite rod. I really like longer rods, 380cm to about 400cm is my sweet spot. The NIRVANA 400 gives me a long reach that I can cast short level lines with kebari in mountain creeks (as long as the tree cover allows me to) to really pick things apart from a distance with a lot of precision. I also fish it a lot on small to medium sized rivers with 14ft-16ft furled lines with non-tenkara flies for fish up to 20 inches or so. I love that it has a soft cast and a light feel but can still handle some of the bigger trout if I seek them out.
The Mutant zx380 zoom rod has really become a favorite of mine for level line casting to small native trout with weightless kebari. It is starting to take over my NIRVANA 400 rod’s spot for fishing true tenkara style. I love each length of this rod and it allows me to adjust to situations that would be too tight for my NIRVANA 400. I like that it is very responsive but has still has the full-flex action won’t fling those very small native trout out of the water; unless I really overdo it on the hook set of course.
The HELLbender rod is my choice for many of the very UN-TENKARA like things I do on my big fish targeting trips. I take this rod when I think there is a chance I am going to be targeting 18-26 inch trout or when I want to cast some bigger streamers. This rod will fling some big flies quite nicely once you get the rhythm down. I don’t do this kind of fishing as much as I used to, but I still do from time to time.
There you have it! I fish kebari, western flies, soft rods, stiff rods, Tenkara, UN-Tenkara, and everything between. I am traditional and un-traditional tenkara depending on the day.
MA: Ha! A fixed-line fly fishing jack-of-all trades.
So, I have to ask, what made you decide to start a tenkara business, and why?
BA: First, I loved the sport and I love the people in tenkara. It is a dream of mine to be involved with a passion I love for your my work, and tenkara felt like the right place for my focus. I also saw a potential golden opportunity at the time I started DRAGONtail that I felt like me and Brandon Moon could tackle together to start a successful business we both would love. We have learned a lot since those early days when we just sold a basic do-it-all tenkara rod and now have a burning passion for the gear we develop and sell, and we feel like that shows in our current product line.
MA: Tell me something about that product line, particularly the value/benefits you think DRAGONtail provides your prospective customers?
BA: One of our business focuses from the beginning has been to offer great products that are easier on the pocketbook. We are definitely not the lowest priced rods but I feel like our rod quality and price are the best bang for your buck. The best example of this is comparing our Shadowfire 365 rod ($100) to many other companies 12ft general-purpose tenkara rods, the price is quite different and the Shadowfire is a great rod. We feel you get a lot of value for what you pay for with our rods.
I also feel that DRAGONtail offers more tenkara products than any other brand. We create many new accessories under our own brand and we bring in accessories from other brands. We are always working on creating and finding new products to fit everyone’s wants. You can find everything you need from rods, kits, lines, flies, and other tenkara accessories all the way to fly tying.
Another thing that DRAGONtail brand offers is that we are not a stagnant company, our gear and rod designs get better and better every year. We find ways to improve our current line-up and replace rods with new models when we feel like we can make them better.
MA: Also, as this has sort of confused me, would you mind clearing up what the DRAGONtail vs. NIRVANA branding on your products means?
BA: The “NIRVANA ON THE FLY” brand is for two things: Our very high end rods, and second for products that cross use between regular fly fishing and tenkara fishing (such as our NIRVANA Line Holders). Take our NIRVANA 400 Tenkara Rod for example, it has a higher grade of carbon fiber with a special carbon weave that make it very sensitive and very strong. This special carbon weave and carbon fiber cost a lot more to use in making this special rod so we put it under our NIRVANA series because it is a premium built rod and the price tag will be higher because of the higher production costs.
MA: Ah, that makes sense. Sort of like Toyota vs. Lexus.
Okay, back to your DRAGONtail brand, your recent collaboration with Tom Davis, the Mizuchi zoom rod, seems to have become a very popular model. How did your relationship with Tom start and what was it like to work with him on this rod?
BA: Well, Tom lives within a 20 minute drive from me so we were bound to meet. We reached out to Tom to review our first rod (the Tatsu) and he did. It was not a rod he liked but what is great about Tom is he is honest and descriptive with his feedback so a reader can tell if it is possibly a rod they might like by his review, even if he didn’t like it for his preference.
Tom has stopped by our warehouse many times over the years to see what was going on and if there was anything new to try out. We bring in a lot of rods from Japan to try out to broaden our rod knowledge and we have lent him a some rods to try out over the years, which he shares his feedback about them with us. In turn, he has brought in some of his rod collection and let us try them out, so we don’t have to buy them all to learn what we like and don’t like.
Tom has been a big help to us in understanding where we need to change and improve on our rod development just by listening to his feedback about each tenkara rod he has tried out from all the different companies. It was fun to go through many of the MIZUCHI prototypes and really fine tune it to a rod that met his criteria for a specific tight casting quarters fishing that sometimes included some decent sized fish. His feedback was specific and well thought out, so I always had a good idea on what needed to change.
The best thing about Tom is the type of person he is. He is very kind and thoughtful of others, and just wants you to succeed in becoming better. Heck, the only thing he really got out of helping us develop the MIZUCHI was a free MIZUCHI rod, I feel like I owe him a lot more for his help but that is not what he wanted.
MA: Your new rod for this Fall, the Mutant, also seems like it’s being well received from a pre-sell standpoint. What should anglers expect to find with that rod?
BA: This rod is many things that were hard to achieve all together in one rod: full-flex, responsive, 3-lengths-in-one, great level line casting in each length, well balanced, and more. This is going to be an awesome rod to take to the mountains for small to medium sized trout and have 3 lengths to choose from to perfectly fit the creek situation you are needing. The long length is 380cm (12.5ft), which is what I like to fish, and the shortest length is 10.3ft for those tighter spots. There is a lot more I can say about this rod but mainly I think it is good enough to become DRAGONtail’s best seller. You can read more about it on our website.
MA: It seems like DRAGONtail Tenkara and Moonlit Fly Fishing are almost like sister companies. How does that work?
BA: DRAGONtail Tenkara & Moonlit Fly Fishing are both sub-companies of Cub River Outfitters LLC, which is owned by me and Brandon Moon. My main focus is our tenkara fishing products (DRAGONtail Tenkara) and Brandon’s main focus is our regular fly fishing (Moonlit Fly Fishing) part of the business. Thus, we have two specific sides of the business to serve our different customers better.
I also like to fish our fiberglass fly rods from time to time, which is a passion of our Moonlit brand. I love the way they feel and could enjoy casting them all day. My approach with a rod and reel is totally different than with my tenkara setup on the same water. For me though I always use a tenkara rod on small water and my business partner Brandon is always going to use his 2wt fiberglass fly rod. Look at that, tenkara and fly fishing do get a long great.
MA: Yes, nice to see the synergy between tenkara and fly at work. I’m happy to hear those Moonlit ‘glass rods cast as nice as they look. I love the bright colors on those sticks!
I’m curious, since 2020 has thrown everybody a big curveball, how has the “new normal” of the Coronavirus impacted your business?
BA: It was not good at first and we were a bit worried, but our business is now back to normal because people who have not fished for years and all getting back into fishing. We will have to see what the long-term effects will be after the pandemic ends, but we are optimistic that our company will continue to grow.
MA: On that note, are there any future plans for your company or brands that you’d like to share?
BA: We are working on a few new developments, but I don’t want to reveal most of them just yet. One that I will let slip out is we will be bringing out a new model of the NIRVANA Line Holders that will hold 2 lines early next year. For the rest of our developments, you will just have to wait and see…
MA: You big tease! Waiting is the hardest part! That two line holder will be slick though, thanks for the scoop!
OK if you know me, you know I have to ask – have you ever seen a Sasquatch? Idaho looks very “squatchy” to me.
BA: I have not ever seen a Sasquatch and I’m not much of a believer (hope that does not lose me any business, HAHA) but it is fun to hear other’s stories and theories on Sasquatch and/or Bigfoot. There is actually a professor in my home town here in Pocatello who is well known in the movement, click here for article on him. Idaho would definitely be a great place for a Sasquatch to stay hidden and secluded.
MA: Wut!?! You live in the same town as Dr. Meldrum? He’s like on the Mount Rushmore of modern day ‘squatching! I hope you don’t mind me paying a visit to Pocatello in the future…
Ok, recomposing myself… (thanks for humoring me)…
Do you support any conservation-based initiatives?
BA: We do support many groups that help and support conservation, river clean ups, and bringing youth into the sport. We feel that our best future for nature to be preserved is to help the next generation develop a passion for it, plus we love the positive effect fishing experiences have on youth to make this world a better place.
MA: Well said; do you have any advice for the new/novice tenkara angler?
BA: Enjoy the times when you are figuring things out mostly on your own. I think those were the most enjoyable fishing trips when I didn’t really know what I was doing and just figuring it out as I went. When you figure something out on your own it is an awesome moment.
Also, if tenkara is stressing you out THEN YOU ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG. Just enjoy what you can currently do, where you can currently do it, and make slight improvements as you go. Tenkara is not perfected in a year or two, tenkara is more of a lifetime of perfecting thing that is supposed to be enjoyed the whole journey.
MA: Excellent. To wrap things up, Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to add?
BA: One other thing to mention is that I LOVE TYING FLIES. Fly patterns are fine but my favorite thing to do is sit down and just throw something together with different materials. Then I hit the river and see if I can make the fly catch fish. Sometimes the flies are complete duds and sometimes I have created something that is very productive, and I get totally stoked about it. Sakasa kebari and soft hackle flies are my favorite to tie, since they don’t have to fit a specific pattern I feel like I have a greater create license to do whatever I want and they still work.
I really have not been tying very many years, but I feel like I have become quite good at what I do tie. I find that the more regular I tie the faster I get better at it. If anyone is starting out tying flies the best thing you can do is do it regularly. Your early flies may not look the best, but they will catch fish and you will get better little by little when you stick with it. Catching a fish on your own fly is so much better than catching a fish on someone else’s fly.
MA: Isn’t that the truth? I think the first fish I caught on a self-tied fly was just as memorable (if not more) than my first fish with a spinning, fly, or tenkara rod.
Brent, I really appreciate the time you spent with the readers and I. We’ll definitely be keeping our eyes out to see those “top secret projects” coming from DRAGONtail in the not too distant future. Thank you so much for doing this interview!
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