Welcome to a series of posts exploring the details of fishing tenkara style rods and techniques. We’ll take a look at different “case studies” and discuss not only what works, but why, and what we can do to catch more fish with tenkara!
Please begin viewing with the slider on the Right of the screen, and then move it Left to reveal the second image.
There is a Trout RIGHT THERE!
Sometimes you look at a piece of water and it just screams – “There is a trout RIGHT THERE!” This water did just that. Along the far bank, on the left side is an ideal stretch of water. The 10 foot long x 2 foot wide current is only inches deep for the first yard and then drops abruptly as it passes over a patch of dark green vegetation, then transitions into deeper water near a grass overhang along the far bank.
As the slider reveals, two small feeder currents combine into a single run just where the depth occurs. This location offers the trout great oxygenation, first food selection on this run, and decent visual cover amongst the darker plants – it’s a likely prime lie. The shadowed grassy overhang offers superior cover and low effort visibility on the current. The increasing depth and channeling structures of the run offers ideal holding spots for Driftless brown trout its whole length.
Fished from downstream, this run is a perfect candidate for a tight line dead drift. Casting from behind and to the side (line shown in yellow, arrow point shows fly location) I target the very top of the current, looking for a “fly only” presentation. When they fly lands, the line/tippet connection (marked with a star) is about the same distance from the casting lane as to the fly. Maintaining line tension keeps the rigging off the water and hidden, off to the side and outside the targeted drift lane. The fly and the last few feet of tippet are the only portions of the system that pass through the drift zone (marked with a green arrow). Sliding over, you’ll see the strike happened right where you’d think it would – in that prime lie where the depth drops and the darker vegetation offers visual cover.
Despite its obvious advantages, I was unable to coax anything from the grassy overhang after having caught the fish from the top. Why didn’t I put some casts through the rear of the run prior to dropping a cast into the top? I figured that it held a greater chance for holding a bigger fish at this time of year. In warm weather, surprisingly large fish will move into surprisingly shallow water to get better temps and oxygenation. Under cooler conditions, I would have put my first cast half way up the run and tried for the grassy overhang before hitting the top. In this case, the prime lie was occupied with a TDB (Typical Driftless Brown) of about 10 inches. I’m going to continue as if I’m not haunted by the possibility I left a 24 inch brown under that overhang by going for the top first.
Shadow & Structure
There is a lot going on with the currents here; decent depth and a tumble-stone streambed offer lots of good structure. As above, I want to keep the line from crossing onto an intended drift area at all times. The goal is a clean, line off the water & fly-first drift that limits visual signature. I’ll have to work through in sections, to make sure I’m not spoiling water as I go.
Slide all the way to the right to the see the first drift. A little upstream of the back of the rock, and down the main current about a foot from structure. I dropped the next drift in roughly the same start position but guided it into the secondary current nearby.
The third and fourth drifts swept the main current and its slow edge along the far bank. As well structured as this run is, the area is exposed to the sun. I was unsurprised these lanes produced no strikes under bright conditions. But that is what drove me to notice that there may be an exception. Looking at the shadows being cast by the bankside vegetation, I reasoned that the far side of the rock must be sheltered in a similar way. I could just barely see the edges of the shadow hugging the structure tightly. It seemed worth targeting with a close drift – but from my casting position, the straight shot casts Id been making were blocked by the rock creating the shadow. How could I target that shadow without splashing my way across the creek to reposition for a straight shot?
The solution was 100% tenkara – use an Oni Loop to bend the line around and over the rock with an aerial mend! I twisted the cast upstream, so that the line/tippet connection was positioned right where’d I’d dropped the fly on the first cast, and the tippet aligned with the rock was still suspended off the water, giving me a clean drift within inches of the structure.
The strike came in the exact area I was targeting, tight to the rock and in the shadow! Another TDB in the net.
Environmentally, both fish were closely holding to structure and the “edges” of things. Differences in color, depth, water quality, light, and temperature – they all create “structure” that the trout relate to. We often find fish on the edges of these conditions, on the borders between “a” and “b”. Tactically, both fish took the fly presented in a dead drift near the surface – exactly what I’m looking for! Despite being unable to see either take, line tension gave me instant “seen and felt” strike detection. I’m always happy when I can specifically locate trout and then use clean fundamentals to put them on the hook!
Here is a video that brings the scenarios outlined above to life:
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