Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Stories

My Journey Into Tenkara

Article by Spencer Mortensen

If you were to rewind my knowledge of fly fishing by 10 years it would be focused 100% on the next trip to the famed Green River or escape into the mountains with my “traditional western fly fishing setup”. I was so focused solely on those trips that I didn’t even consider the evidence of doing things differently. I had never spent time chasing bluegill, carp, or bass. I had never fly fished in the surf, never caught so many of the species that I have now come to love. I had never even thought of the idea of tenkara fishing, let alone ever heard of it.

If we return to the present day, I prefer to chase carp and bluegill over most trout trips. I would rather learn something new than do the same thing over and over. THIS is what led me to try tenkara fishing this year.

My Journey Into Tenkara - Spencer Mortensen - Tenkara Angler - Carp

My first outing was uneventful and painful. I didn’t learn nearly as much as I thought I would, I didn’t have any positive fishing reinforcements, and I didn’t find much joy in it. I promised myself that I would give tenkara a few more tries before I decided to remain a western fly fisherman. My next trips changed my entire viewpoint on tenkara.

The next trip I went fishing on a small stream with my brother-in-law. He was throwing conventional spin gear with a small gold Mepps spinner and caught a few fish while I was watching him. I decided to set up the tenkara rod and see what I could do. The first several pools that I fished I had no success. I realized that I wasn’t getting accurate casts and that I wasn’t doing what I needed to do to get into some fish. So, I walked to an open stretch of water to practice some casting. Once I figured out how to get my fly where I wanted, I called to my brother-in-law that we should move along.    

We headed downstream and found a section of water where we could see some fish. I tried some traditional tenkara flies that I had on hand and the fish weren’t interested in my offerings. I switched it up and threw on a beadhead nymph that I could sight fish with. A few casts in and I had my first fish on. After a few chaotic moments of trying to figure out how to get down the cliff’s edge, I was able to land my first fish on a tenkara setup. A quick release and I scrambled back up the embankment. 

My Journey Into Tenkara - Spencer Mortensen - Tenkara Angler - Brown Trout

A few moments later I hooked into a fifteen-inch brown trout that fought well above his weight class. It was a euphoric moment that let me understand how fun and pure tenkara fishing can be.   

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to chase some bluegill and bass with my tenkara rod. I headed over to a favorite body of water and proceeded to have one of the best three hours of fishing that I can recall. I probably landed more than twenty-five bluegill, landed my personal best bass on the fly (and another half dozen bass), then drove over to a different body of water and caught ten rainbow trout. It was one of those short, half day outings that made me just giggle the entire time.

My Journey Into Tenkara - Spencer Mortensen - Tenkara Angler - Bluegill

What I can say now is that tenkara has earned its spot in my quiver of rods. I will probably be adding a few more different tenkara rods before I add another western style fly rod. I hope that my short story of how I started my tenkara addiction helps remind you of the joy that both tenkara and fly fishing can bring into your life. Tight level lines my friends.

Gear Notes:

“I have been using a #3 level line that I built (tied?), my most recent tenkara rod is the DRAGONtail Shadowfire, and I have fished such a variety of flies that I don’t have a favorite one yet. I try and match the fly to the situation that I am fishing in.”

Spencer Mortensen has been fly fishing for 20 plus years across the western United States. Spencer originally dabbled in tenkara to figure out if it was something he could get into. He is now hooked. Spencer is the owner of Not Only Trout, which can also be found on YouTube and Instagram.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021-22 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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