Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Techniques Trout & Char

Five Tips for Fixed Line Mousing with a Tenkara Rod

Over the weekend I watched a new video from Jared Willadsen on his Tenkara Genki YouTube channel. He spent an afternoon in the Driftless catching brown trout with his Tenkara USA Amago.

While this is an uncommon way to fish with a tenkara rod, and may certainly ruffle the feathers of purists, I was suprised to see we didn’t have any content about fixed line fly fishing with mouse flies here on Tenkara Angler. I thought it might be a good “writing prompt” to put together an article/outline for those that want to give fixed line mousing a try…

Tip 1: When To Use Mouse Flies

While I’m sure anglers can have success fishing with mouse flies in all conditions, I’d personally recommend trying them in two scenarios. The first is either in early morning or late evening. Fish are often more active in the early morning and late evening, so these are good times for fish to key in on larger prey. Some of the best mousing takes place after dark, so be sure to bring a headlamp along!

A second great opporutnity to use mouse flies are on overcast days, or during a light rain. The mouse fly will be more visible to fish in low light conditions than some other types of flies and rain can wash prey into streams, making them prime targets for predatory fish. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jared had the success he did on a rainy day.

Fixed Line Mousing Tenkara Rod - Tenkara Angler - Michael Agneta - Overcast Day
Jason Sparks fishing on an overcast and rainy day

Tip 2: Selecting the Correct Gear

Mouse flies are big and heavy, so you’ll need a heavy-duty tenkara rod and line for fixed line mousing. This is not the time to use your 10-foot 5:5 full flex rod. Size up accordingly to a “big fish” rod, the kind we write about in our fairly comprehensive guide. Personally, I’d recommend something in the 13-foot range with a 7:3 action. I’d also recommend using a furled or floating line, as the line’s mass (when compared to a level line) will help give you more control of your cast. The fish will be keying on the large mouse fly, so keeping the line off the water is not quite as important as with traditional tenkara techniques.

Tenkara USA Amago, as featured in Jared’s video

Tip 3: Where and How to Cast

Remember, you’re not dry fly or nymph fishing here, nor pulsing kebari. Think to yourself where and how an actual mouse might enter a stream (either intentionally or by accident) and target those spots first. Mouse flies are big and wind-resistant, so it’s important to cast accurately. Aim for the bank or near overhanging branches, where mice are most likely to be found. Also, don’t be afraid to “splat” them down into the water.

Once you’ve made that accurate cast, retrieve slowly and erratically. Mouse flies are supposed to look like they’re struggling to swim. Retrieve your fly slowly and erratically, with short, jerky twitches. Swimming your mouse fly horizontally or diagonally to the current or perpendicular to the bank is often a recipe for success.

Fixed Line Mousing Tenkara Rod - Tenkara Angler - Michael Agneta - Swimming Mouse

Tip 4: Be Ready for Anything!

If the trout are actively feeding, be prepared for explosive takes! When in the mood, trout love mouse flies, and they often hit them hard. Be prepared for an explosive take almost immediately after your fly hits the water. When a trout hits your mouse fly, set the hook hard. While you may end up foul-hooking a few more fish than usual, many times your split-second reaction is the difference between bringing that fish to hand or having it make a splashy escape.

Tip 5: An Easy Mouse Pattern to Tie

There are several different styles of mouse flies one can use with when fixed line mousing with a tenkara rod. Some are made from deer hair, others rabbit fur, but my favorite is actually made from foam pipe insulation and chenille.

The “Splat Rat” is a pattern that Kai Cornelius popularized in tenkara circles quite a few years ago. He used almost exclusively in Utah with great success. I can attest it works equally as well in other parts of the country. I’ve fished it for brown trout in Wisconsin and largemouth bass in Florida. Here’s my version paired with the DRAGONtail HELLbender and furled line.

Fixed Line Mousing Tenkara Rod - Tenkara Angler - Michael Agneta - Splat Rat Mouse Fly

While I don’t have Kai’s recipe, Rob Snowhite has a popular tutorial on YouTube. It’s essentially what I use to tie my versions. In this video he uses a large #6 bass hook. I’ve gone down to size #10s… although I will admit the thick foam pipe insulation gets a bit cumbersome to tie around smaller hooks.

Bonus Tip: Watch Once in a Blue Moon

Once in a Blue Moon is a feature film released almost 15 years ago that kind of kicked off the mousing boom to the fly fishing mainstream. It documents a set of specific circumstances that take place in New Zealand from time to time that set off an epic mouse “hatch”. While this is not tenkara or fixed line fly fishing, just watching the teaser trailer below is sure to give any angler an adrenaline rush. I think the full video can still be found if you look hard enough, perhaps even on a streaming service.

Well, that concludes my very basic primer on fixed line mousing with a tenkara rod. I’m nowhere near an expert, but these five tips should get any angler off on the right foot. If you’ve done this style of fishing and have additional secrets or experiences to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below, or on your favorite social media service.

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