Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Other Trip Reports

Fixed Lines for Landlocked Salmon

Article by Joey Ortiz

Fall is a wonderful time for fishing in southern New England, it’s truly a vibe that’s hard to beat. I had been spending the early weeks of October chasing trout and trying to catch a glimpse of the brood stock Atlantic salmon that Connecticut often lets loose this time of year. I’d gotten skunked two days in a row on the Naugatuck River when I met a couple of fly anglers who told me about landlocked kokanee salmon in a pond further north. I’d seen Tenkara Addict going for them out west successfully using a tenkara rod, but out here in Connecticut? They had assured me a quick google search would confirm this and after a little bit of research it turns out there are a few successful fisheries for them in the state.

Fixed Lines for Landlocked Salmon - Tenkara Angler - Joey Ortiz

How on earth was I supposed to pull one out of a pond on a tenkara rod? Let’s just say this report was very close to not being a tenkara story at all.

The kokanee were spawning with the peak being the next two weeks. I got all my gear and made my way to the West Hill Pond boat launch with my father. Apparently, the salmon would be along the shore somewhere. Right away my dad landed two rainbow trout with his spinning rod but these conditions were not suitable for tenkara, the wind was brutal and I couldn’t hit the depth I needed.

The salmon were swirling around a large drain by the road. It was an incredibly beautiful sight to behold, I personally have never seen so many beautiful fish in spawning colors swirling in a mass of red. The water here is so beautiful and taken care of that even the stocked fish being pulled from the water had a beautiful color to them. This drain poured out into a trickle just across the road. I went to have a look but there were a few tiny native brookies and not much else in this rather dry creek fed by the pond. I was not able to land one fish on my fixed line on this particular day, but I was eager to return!

The following week I had my western fly rod setup with me, but for some reason I decided to also bring my tenkara rod again with some San Juan worms. When I arrived I saw all the anglers at the same spot and noticed they were pulling some salmon out of the water but they were snagging them. The kokanee are not striking out of hunger at this point in their lifecycle, they are either taking egg patterns to compete or striking larger patterns to mark territory.

The best way it was put at a local fly shop was, “They’re probably the most annoying fish to catch while spawning, you just have to sit there and piss ‘em off until they take your fly.” I thought that was funny, but I didn’t let it discourage me. With how beautiful the scenery was here at the pond I could stay there all day without a single catch and be content with getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

I wasn’t having any luck near the drain and decided to take a coffee break and check out the creek across the road again. To my surprise they opened the drain, and the salmon filled the creek in the newly created riffles and rapids from the flow. I was shocked, and the best part was that nobody was there. The salmon were putting on a show and even jumping upstream. I could easily see why the other anglers wouldn’t consider it. There was too much brush, higher gradient water, and it was relatively shallow. These played right into my fixed line strategies so I immediately went back to the car to grab my tenkara outfit and got to casting!

I was determined to catch one of these salmon by the mouth, I knew the task would take some time as my fly would drift right by an entire school with not so much as nibble. I switched angles, added some action. Still, I caught nothing. I wouldn’t be honest if I said I wasn’t getting bummed out by this point. My coffee cup was empty, my stomach rumbling, and a long drive back home ahead of me.

While thinking I should start making my way back to the car with my tail between my legs, I had a huge tug on my line. I set the hook and kept the tension. “Fish on!” I exclaimed. I was so excited but did my best to calmly bring the fish in. I was so happy that I got the salmon by the mouth too! A beautiful male not with a pronounced hump but awesome none the less, my mission was accomplished.

Fixed Lines for Landlocked Salmon - Tenkara Angler - Joey Ortiz - Kokanee

It never ceases to amaze me how adaptable tenkara rods can be to a wide variety of conditions and types of fish. I really appreciate how western tenkara continues to push boundaries with its creativity. With that said I also truly appreciate my one-fly friends and purists doing a truly conservative gesture by leaving the art as is and really showing us all that less is more.

The kokanee put up a superb fight and I encourage any strict trout anglers to give it a try if you have a chance, it’s such a great way to switch things up. I look forward to fall next year and continuing to push the boundaries of my gear.

Fixed Lines for Landlocked Salmon - Tenkara Angler - Joey Ortiz - Salmon in Net

Joey Ortiz is a Cybersecurity Engineer by day, avid tenkara angler by night. A young conservationist with a desire to share some fishing stories with others.

This article originally appeared in the 2022-23 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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