Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Trip Reports Trout & Char

Late Winter Leech: Tenkara Rod Fishing the Late Winter Driftless

Trip Report by Mike Lutes

Mike Lutes - Leech Tenkara Fishing - Driftless Stream
Driftless trout stream under thaw

In Matt’s recent article about early season fishing in the Wisconsin Driftless region, he mentioned how he caught the only fish of the day. Naturally, I did what any good friend of 40+ years would do and went fishing without him the next time! Conditions were a little more favorable, with the sun shining, light winds and temps on the warm up. The downside was the snowmelt had the water running a little higher and faster than ideal, and the flow of cold water into the creek from the snow melt can make the fish listless. 

There was a somewhat steady hatch of some tiny bug, but no surface feeders. Just as well as I refuse to fish flies that small. Leech patterns are often touted as a good early season pattern in Wisconsin, but I find them useful year round. Sticking to the conventional wisdom I tied on a leech. I was once again fishing the Tenkara Times 1st Step 360 with #4 level line. 

I had probed some promising runs with no response whatsoever from the fish. There is a horseshoe on the creek that for some reason I had skipped over in the past. I took a moment to strategize and thought if I could get the leech to drift under a rock in the bend of the creek, I might be able to provoke a take. Well, my cast was slightly off and the leech drifted a few inches to the right of the rock…but that was close enough!

A large, kype-jawed brown swam out to take the fly. We all love it when a fish have an aggressive take, but there is something to be said for the lazy confidence of a big trout. Now, I should say that I really like fishing with the Tenkara Times rod, but it is not my favorite for fighting big fish. It has become my go to trout rod, but I would not think of using it for chasing smallmouth. I think it is easier to fight big fish with the stiffer American brand rods.

Landing big fish on a softer tenkara rod is a slightly different skill set. This patch of creek was also an oddity as it is a short section of public land in between two sections of private land, so I was hemmed by electric fences on either side of me. Since I couldn’t muscle the fish in, I had to steer him up and down the short section of creek until I could coax him into the landing zone. And then land him in my aging, broken Tenkara USA tamo.

Mike Lutes - Leech Tenkara Fishing - Big Driftless Brown Trout
Hefty Driftless Brown trout caught on leech and tenkara rod

I kept him in the net, in the creek, while setting up my phone for the photo, grabbed a quick shot and released him. I am a lousy fish photographer. There have been several instances in the last 5-6 years where I catch my largest trout of the season in the earliest stages of Wisconsin’s trout season. That is possibly because I mostly chase smallmouth from May-September, but it has been an interesting theme. 

I have found that the two things in life that engender the most self doubt are parenting and fly fishing. Within a few minutes of catching that fish, I started questioning my fly selection, my reading of the creek and my overall skill as an angler. I switched to my version of the killer bug, kind of a cross between a traditional killer bug and the Wisconsin-classic pink squirrel fly. No luck. I found a Panther Martin on the side of the creek, so I took that as a sign from the creek spirits to switch to microspoon from TenkaraBum. No luck with that either.

When I used to bird hunt more, I would refer to days where no birds were harvested as “a well-armed walk”. Not sure what the fly fishing equivalent is, maybe a well-equipped walk? Either way, the rest of the outing was unproductive, but I will savor the thrill of landing that fine fish for the rest of the season. And I’ll invite Matt next time. 

Mike Lutes - Leech Tenkara Fishing - Tenkara Gear
Mike is “apparently” tough on his gear.

Mike Lutes is the former co-owner of Badger Tenkara, a practicing emergency physician and father of 5. He chases smallmouth with tenkara gear as often as he can.

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