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Fixed Line Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass

While the ongoing debate on the definition of tenkara runs hot and cold, (it’s fixed line fly fishing in mountain streams for trout & char BTW 😉 ), there’s no doubting that using your tenkara rod to catch other species can be an absolute blast. This comprehensive article from the Spring 2018 issue of Tenkara Angler does a deep dive into the techniques and strategies the author uses to pursue smallmouth bass.

Smallmouth Bass:
A Marvelous Fish for the Tenkara Rod!
by Bob Long, Jr.

1. Smallmouth bass are NOT Trout – not even close. They’re not supposed to be.

2. Smallmouth bass in American Rivers, Creeks and Streams are most definitely NOT 8 – 10-inch trout living in high-gradient, fast-flowing, mountain streams in Japan, either.

Smallmouth bass are, what they are. Not what they are not.

If you can accept the integrity of those statements, marvelous! Some great smallmouth fishing awaits. If not, it may be useless for you to read further.

“I know what you’re trying to do.” – Neo

“I trying to free your mind. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one who has to walk through it.” – Morpheus.

If those first two lines intrigue, and you intend to get serious about tenkara for smallmouth bass, the first thing I request of you – before rods, lines, tippets, flies – is to curtail or stop using “smallmouth bass and trout” in the same sentence or thought (e.g., “like trout, smallmouth bass are…” or “look for smallmouth in those trout like riffles…,” etc.). If you are willing to do this you will be on your way to a greater understanding of smallmouth bass as the fish they are – where they live, what they do, how they feed, and how to appeal to them. You will be on your way to enjoying greatly increased success for them using your tenkara rods.

Background: I conduct on-the-water, fly-fishing workshops in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan for smallmouth bass in Midwestern rivers, creeks and streams (I am that specific as to fish and location as to keep the minds of workshop participants, and readers focused on the particulars of the task at hand. It helps). The workshops last four-to-five hours (usually 3:00 pm until dark in the summer). Although I feature tenkara rods in the workshops, the lessons therein are applicable for western fly rods and spinning rods too.

“My workshops, though technical and detailed in many ways, seek a playful and unpressured approach to tenkara fishing for smallmouth bass as an action to be lived in, experienced and discovered in real time (while in the water catching fish), not as a craft or job to be mastered or completed over time away from the water. Learning will come, especially if you are catching fish as you go. What I want for you initially is to have fun catching as many smallmouth as possible with your tenkara (or western fly) rods.” – Bob Long

15 - Long cast aren't required with smallmouth. Don't cast farther; wade closer. Tenkara fits this perfectly.JPG

As such, one of the first things I teach is that the rod, line, flies and lures (equipment) are nice, but have little to do with the “Who, What, Where, When, Why & How” of the life of the smallmouth in the waters we are fishing. The WWWWW&H? That’s the good stuff! Know your fish, you can catch your fish – with relative ease. Equipment can be fun, but ultimately, its meaningless to the fish. But the WWWWW&H of each species of fish is of great importance for your immediate and long-term success.

Combine this WWWWW&H knowledge with my fishing system, which I call, “Information + Experience + Interpretation = Knowledge = Fish” and take it to heart, and your tenkara fishing for smallmouth can be marvelously rewarding and fulfilling. You will catch a lot more fish (assuming that is your goal in fly fishing – it isn’t always for some).

The Caveat. Learning to fish from reading (including this) and watching videos has some value, but it is limited. I liken it to trying to learn to throw a football or a curveball from reading articles or watching videos. Can’t do it. Mainly because you can’t stand outside of yourself and see yourself to evaluate yourself. Reading piques the interest, I believe, but long lasting and deep fishing knowledge comes on the water, working with a mentor, teacher, facilitator, experienced friend or Sensei. This is where the lessons and the learning really dig in. That is how humans have been teaching each other for thousands of years.

“Find people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” – Amy Poehler.

And, it will only be your ego that will prevent you from doing this. Don’t let it.

Also, this article is not a preachy/teachy “I know best,” story, but meant to offer possibilities to be considered or explored when standing in a smallmouth river, tenkara rod in hand. I also hope you will resist the urge to consider the following material as either simple or complex, truth or non-truth. Just read it and let it settle in. Or not. It is a start, but only so much will come to you reading words. You gotta get out there.

So, let’s assume you have decided that a tenkara rod and smallmouth bass are for you. If you decide to try this system and give it a consistent use on the water, there are some things you will also need to unlearn. First, that smallmouth bass are NOT trout – period. Can’t state this enough. However, when most of us think of fly fishing in moving water, we are thinking trout (sub-consciously, unconsciously, or by choice). For many fly fishers “fly fishing IS trout fishing.” However, many of the particulars of trout – reading the water, presentations, forage, equipment, flies/lures – hinders your ability to successfully fly fish for warm-water smallmouth over the long term. Many will disagree – vehemently. Understood. But I stand by that statement. (Some of you may now need a moment to breathe into the proverbial paper bag.)

In my workshops I ask if you can stop filtering your smallmouth fly fishing through the lens of trout fishing. Don’t look for similarities or differences. Just look at smallmouth alone. Try to leave trout out of the discussion altogether (yes, it can be done although it may be a challenge for many). I’ll say, “You don’t need a frame of reference from one fish to another to be successful with either,” (e.g., you don’t reference crappie when fishing for bluegill in the same lake or pond, do you? Or reference channel catfish when fishing for walleye in the river they both occupy. So, why reference trout for and about smallmouth when they don’t even occupy the same river or types of waters?). Do we reference trout for smallmouth just because we have a fly rod in our hands instead of a spinning rod? Actually, yes, we do, as that is how deeply ingrained trout are in fly fishing. Let’s try to break that link in the chain.

IF you are willing to leave trout out of the discussion about smallmouth (and that is a big IF – I can feel the resistance rising in many you) you will find your average daily catch rate for smallies going up appreciably. If not, it probably won’t.

Will this letting go be hard? If you feel letting go of trout-think and learning smallies with be easy, it will be easy. If you feel it will be hard, it will be hard. Easy and hard are simply our interpretations of a neutral act: learning. It is neither easy nor hard to learn. How we feel about learning is often a choice up to each of us. Finally, it helps if you let go, for crying out loud, of the joy-killing, “yeah, buts!”

“Ok, that sounds nice, but…”
“I agree with you on that, but…”
“Yeah, probably, but what about…?”

“Always with you what cannot be done.” – Yoda to Luke Skywalker

Some who come to my workshops simply will not make the change. They will use trout tactics almost the whole workshop (and yes, I do wonder why they came). It almost physically pains them to try. They take the “blue pill.” Or they mumble about some kind of magic, secret lures or home-stream advantage when they see me catching fish – often from locations I call out before casting to. It isn’t magic, lures or just home field. It is learned techniques. Available to all.

Here’s my approach for using tenkara rods for smallmouth bass in rivers, creeks, and streams.

Each day I come to the water, I bring a small box with three types of flies, and another with three types of plastic lures and some jigs. I try to come with a fresh mind – even if I was just there yesterday. I need to figure out anew the who, what, where, when, why & how of today:

  • This fish (smallmouth bass – biology, habits, needs, behavior)
  • In this particular river, (each river has similarities and differences, and sections of each river can vary markedly)
  • On this specific day, (season, time of day, weather)
  • Under today’s water conditions (water low/high, fast/slow, rising/falling, clear/stained, cool/warm)

I run this info through my fishing system, “Today’s Information + My Experience + My Interpretation of it = Informed Knowledge.” And thus, an informed course of action to take that day. Where to start, which lures or flies to use first, how to fish them, etc. Are the fish where I thought they would or should be? If not, where else might they be? Adjust. Am I getting hits on this color, shape, size, action of fly or lure? If not, what else, how else? Adjust. And on.

We all do this is one form or another, some do it more in depth than others.

When I get it right, I catch fish. When I don’t, (for a variety of reasons) I struggle and catch fewer.

“Information + Experience + Interpretation = Knowledge = Fish.” And so it is with tenkara rods and smallmouth bass.

5 - Info + Experience = Knowledge.jpg

Equipment Suggestions:

[Side note: Tenkara rods are superb tools for smallmouth bass in rivers, creeks and streams (just having a max cast of 30-feet or less for starters. It really helps with keeping one focused on what’s directly in front of you – no small feat in today multi-tasking world. Love it). For the last three to four years I have used them exclusively when fly fishing for smallies. But they are only tools. Marvelous tools, yes, lots of fun – but just tools nonetheless. It isn’t the rod, it isn’t the line, it isn’t the fly or lure that get fish. It’s you.

As one of my 22-year-old, Harry Potter-loving, fishing friends put it: “It ain’t the wand, Mr. Long, it’s the Wizard.” ‘Nuff said.]

Tenkara Rods. I know and use these. They can handle large smallmouth (up to 21” so far) in current as well as the size flies and lures I use: Badger Tenkara Wisco 2, Daiwa Expert LT 39 and LTH 44, and the Tenkara USA Amago. (all Rods with either 7:3 or 8:2 action), in lengths of 12 – 14 feet. Other rods will no doubt work. I just don’t know them. You need something geared for warm-water, not just “larger trout.” A 20” smallie in current is a way different fish than a 20” rainbow or brown. Get a rod rated for warm-water use.

6 - Equipment are tools, nice, but tools. _It ain't the Wand, It's the Wizard_ - Bob Long.jpg

Furled Leaders. Because of the rocky nature of many smallmouth waters, and the length and weight of the flies and lures I use (up to 3” in length and to a weight of 1/12 ounce or so) I suggest using furled leaders, 12 – 14 feet in length (same as the rod) not level or mono lines. You can go a foot or two longer once you are used to it, but not to start. Remember, most smallmouth fishing is sub-surface. You won’t see many takes, you’ll mainly feel them (although many of my workshops attendees can’t feel them, and I have to say “You had a hit. You’ve got a fish.”). So, a sturdy yet soft, tapered, furled leader that more strongly transmits energy and vibration works best with smallmouth.

Tenkara is not about distance (this you already know). The further you are from your fly/lure the less you feel; the slower you feel it. The less you know about where your fly is down there and what it is doing, the slower your reaction times, the more strikes you miss, the more hang-ups you’ll find. Leaders the length of your tenkara rod, with three to four feet of tippet is fine for most situations. Learn to love the intimacy and sharpness of being so close to your fish – not see it as a potential limitation. Most times one must simply wade closer to a spot, not try to cast farther (discipline).

Delicacy and accuracy of casting are not issues here either. Neither is being able to repeat a narrow range of specific drifts or presentations. In addition, keeping line off the water means very little for smallmouth fishing (as do the concepts of drag, drag free drifts, delicate casts upon the water). Being able to cast your flies, work them purposefully in current, feel strikes, set hooks, fight and land fish are what count. Smallmouth tenkara is not about trout (again, resist the urge to make it so with comparisons). So, furled leaders with tenkara-styled are the way I go.

Casting. Yes, furled leaders and larger, heavier flies/lures will affect your casting motion. Know this, accept this. And, So What? Adjust. The beauty of the 10-to-2, or the graceful casts one gets with tenkara rods and kebari flies, will not be doable nor desirable here. Let that thought go. You need a larger and slower transfer of energy to get your smallmouth flies and lures out and to take pressure off the tip sections of tenkara rods. I have wide, open, looping casts that may look weird to many fly fishers, but they are graceful and pretty in their own way, and effective too. Furled leaders are essential to do this. (I always point out much of this info before and again at the start of a workshop. I have extra leaders with me. I offer them to participants. Some say yes, some say no. Some request them after they’ve seen how I work them while fishing. Seeing is believing. Sometimes.)

Plus, I suggest you get your leaders in bright colors you can see. Chartreuse, bright red, fluorescent orange, bright green. I’ve not found smallmouth to be put off by such things. Period. But seeing where your line is in the air and on the water, can be quite helpful to you. I use Oudachi and Tachi lines from Moonlit.

Note: I have not yet tried the Badger-Lite floating tenkara line, but I will this spring.

Tippet. I use name-brand, good quality, non-stiff, four to six pound test monofilament line (mainly four). I prefer Trilene XL in light green, and Cabela’s No-Vis Fluorocarbon (clear,) but others will do. As long as it’s fresh, quality line, don’t sweat this. I don’t lose lots of flies or lures to break offs or fish. Still, I am careful to grab the tippet or the leader and pull it to break off, not putting pressure on the rod.

Right about now – as I share all of this – I usually ask workshop participants, “How are you doing? What are you thinking? What’s working for you? What isn’t?” So, I’m asking you as you read. Why? Well, because while “Resistance may be futile” to quote the Borg, it is very much part of being human. Work hard to recognize when resistance appears. Work harder to overcome it and make the necessary changes for fishing success. Breathe. Relax. You can do this, because remember, you can go back to your old ways anytime.

Reminder, this is about tenkara and smallmouth bass in rivers, creeks, and streams. Not tenkara for anything else. Ultimately, while a structured approach and attention to detail is rewarded when fishing, I am not offering trout-styled “perfection in concept” or written-in-stone “this is how it must be done” rules. Let go of the notion there is, and you’ll grow. Hold onto them, and your attention is on doing things the “right way,” not seeking possibilities to more effective ways to fish. Still, these are all suggestions, considerations, not directives. I realize, you could reject everything I’m saying, and still happily go about catch fish.

“We humans love consistency. However, nature is anything but. Allow for that.” – Bob Long

Presentations:

This is where people really freak out. I only wade, cast and fish going downstream. I only fish while wading and casting, facing downstream (like “NY, NY,” that was so nice I had to say it twice).

7 - Keep the fly or lure moving. Smallmouth eat lively things - minnows and crayfish.jpg

Here is where words fail. Most really need to see the things I am saying, on the water, to get it. So many of my workshop participants say upon seeing me in real time, “Oh, I didn’t think you really meant THAT straight downstream” or “I didn’t really think you meant THAT close” or “Really? Move the fly all the time? NO dead drifts?” (No, 99% of the time I am giving my fly a little jigging action.) I am often still surprised at how markedly different their interpretation of what they read or even see in a video will be from what I am asking of them. They can be so far off. That is why – teachers, mentors, facilitators, coaches, Sensei.

First thing. Wading upstream, casting up stream, trying to keep control of your drift and maintain contact with your heavier, larger fly, feel takes, prevent snag ups and get a good hookset with tenkara rods is exhausting. You’ll be busier than a one-armed man trying to hang wallpaper in a wind storm. I recommend against it and teach an alternative.

Again, smallmouth aren’t trout. I don’t approach them as such. I never wade or cast up, up-and-across, or across stream when smallmouth fishing – with tenkara or any other type of rod. The road to hell (loss of feel, of flies, snagged lures, missed strikes, tired legs, knees and arms), is thus paved going upstream for me. My casting is across-and-down, down-and-across and downstream. I can go downstream effectively hitting fishy locations, carefully covering specific fishy-looking parts of the water in a 180-degree arc from my left to right, and right to left. Lots of flexibility of coverage. “Oh, I didn’t think you meant really THAT straight downstream.”

14 - Smallmouth bass aren't trout and your Tenkara techniques for them should be more like your spinning techniques than your fly rod techniques for trout.JPG

Yes, I am in the fish’s face. I’m not sure how well the smallmouth can see you from 20-30 feet away, but over the course of time, I’ve found it doesn’t tend to matter. I’ve caught hundreds within 10-15-feet or less of me. Many times, they are only a rod’s length away (I use dapping, flipping or pitching to such fish, not casting).

Wading and casting downstream – tenkara rod in right hand, wading staff comfortably in the left (which supports me and keeps me from taking baths) allows me maximum control and feel of my flies and lures, all done with hand and rod position. With one hand, I can work my fly/lure deep, mid-depth, high, on the surface. I can move it left, right, move it forward or drop it back, or leave it in place for as long as I wish. Move it fast or slow or not at all, just let the current move it in place. You can thoroughly, consciously and purposefully cover water fishing downstream. (I even do this the few times I use surface flies too.)

Fishing downstream has another benefit for the tenkara rod. When it comes time to cast, my line and fly are already tight downstream from me. Little to no slack. I simply pick up the line and fly, bring it up high in the air, swing it behind me, and then bring the rod tip forward (softly, slowly) and put the fly down again where I wish. Using my wrist, arm and upper body I can move, pivot, turn and place the fly anywhere in that 180-degree arc of water. No false casting, seldom a correction cast, light pressure on the upper sections of the rod. As soon as it hits the water, I’m in contact with the fly or lure, ready for strikes (smallies often hit as soon as a fly or lure hits the water or soon thereafter. Most guys still getting situated, finishing the cast and preparing for the drift, and are not ready for that. I’ll see their line twitch, their rod tip bounce slightly. “You just had a hit”).

All of the above can so greatly increase the depth of your ability to put the “Information + Experience + Interpretation = Knowledge = Fish” system to work wherever you go to fish smallmouth in flowing waters.

Flies/Lures:

Yes, lures (small spoons, tiny Japanese crankbaits, itty-bitty, in-line spinners, up to 3” plastics) with the tenkara rod. Another hard pill for many to swallow. But, smallmouth are not trout. So, why not? Don’t switch to trout stuff – little nymphs and 1.5” streamers – just because you pick up a fly rod. Stay with things – or as close to – that you would normally use successfully for smallmouth. They respond to lures far better than they do to flies. Lures have size, shape, color, action, vibration, scent. Flies not as much. This is a big part of the workshops. Easy for some to accept. Hard-to-impossible for others. The Daiwa Expert LT39, LTH44, and the Wisco 2 mentioned earlier have handled these larger flies and lures easily. (There were issues for me with the Amago. Not sure this is recommended for that rod – just maybe larger flies.)

Smallies are aggressive in ways trout are not (not better or worse; just different). Smallies have no feeding lies, seldom holding stations. They are hunters, not grazers. They attack, not wait. They move around; a lot. Once past 6-8-inches they don’t eat little things, but the biggest things they can swallow. Their prey – mainly crayfish and minnows – is sizable, running 3 – 5” (think river crayfish (not pond crabs) to 4”- 5” hellgrammites to medium-sized golden roaches, not crappie minnows, crickets, or bee moth). Crayfish and forage fish can seldom be found or seen dead-drifting helplessly or casually with the current. Crayfish can hold in strong current and hustle any direction. They can also fight back. Minnows swim away and must be chased or ambushed. I suggest the flies and lures you use with your tenkara rods mimic these aggressive actions and tendencies when possible.

“When you feel doubt creeping in, remind yourself – tenkara has no smallmouth in its past. No defining or confining traditions. It is a book in which we are – right here, right now – writing the first chapters. I feel no constraints other than those I might discover along the way. We are free to play and discover what does and doesn’t work for each of us. We are at the forefront. Can you feel that excitement?” – Bob Long

When I use flies, I use 2-4” woolly buggers 95% of the time (black, white, olive, brown/orange). On occasion I’ll use some other concoction I create, like the Fuzzy Creeper (tied on 1/16 oz., size 4 jighead), or on more rare occasions a cork or foam-headed surface fly. Mainly I use 2- to 3-inch plastic lures on 1/16 – 1/64 ounce, thin-wire, (Mustad, Gamakatsu, Matzuo, etc.) custom-poured jigheads I get from guys on the internet (they are usually surprised to know I tie flies on these hooks and use fly rods). I use these because they have sharper points, longer shanks and wider gaps than the usual fly hooks, and that aids my hook setting and fish holding.

For the last three-to-four years I’ve been using Keitech 2” and 3” Swing Impact Swimbaits, Cubby Mini Mite and Mini-Mite 2 lures, and 3” Spring Grubs by Producto lures. Man, I catch a lot of fish with these, all while using my tenkara rods in ways as described above. And as I do, I learn more and more about smallies in rivers, creeks and streams on my tenkara rods.

9 - 2_ - 3_ Lures and Tenkara rods can work well. If it works with spinning it can work with Tenkara.jpg

Does any of this sound or feel like the tenkara you currently know? Probably not. Does it matter? Willing to try something new? I admit, I love using my tenkara rods in new, exciting, innovative and productive ways – learning what they can and cannot do well. I love the casting, the movement of lure and fly as I work the water, the feel of the take, the hookset, the fight. I feel free to create techniques for it and for a fish (the smallmouth bass) and its water that doesn’t exist in Japan.

Still, I am not seeking to create new, highly-structured traditions with my tenkara rod for smallmouth bass in rivers, creeks and streams that are the “right way” to fish. You can try it in whole, in part or not at all. Mix and match with your own base of knowledge. My fishing system of “Information + Experience + Interpretation = Knowledge = Fish” isn’t designed to replace existing ones. It isn’t against anything. It exists for itself and works marvelously for me. Wanna’ try? Let me know.

11 - Bob at Rock Creek with Smallie - Wisco 2 rod.jpg

A Sortable Teton Tenkara Rod Flex Index Chart

From its introduction to the West, Tenkara has thrived in a mostly online eco-system. As such, unless you’re one of the lucky few who live near a fly shop or outdoor retailer that carries tenkara rods, you probably never got to try out a particular rod model prior to purchase.

One of the more valuable (and underrated) tools when it comes to evaluating the “feel” of a tenkara rod (without handling it) is the Rod Flex Index Chart compiled by Dr. Tom Davis of the Teton Tenkara blog.

logo_rectangle Registered.jpg

Tom has handled, tested, and fished probably (or very close to) the most rods of anybody I’m familiar with. In doing such he compiled quite the chart, calculating the rod flex index (RFI) of each. According to Tom, the rod flex index is a simple rating that gives a person an estimate of how a rod’s character and flex might feel in comparison to other rods of any given length.

It’s also an offshoot of the common cents system “penny rating” he took from Chris Stewart and ran with (who also happened to borrow it from somebody else), so hopefully I’m spreading all the credit around where it’s due. For a heck of a lot more info on what goes into all this, Tom wrote the following “Treatise on Static Rod Testing” for those that really want to geek out.

Anyway…

Generally speaking, the smaller the rod flex index, the slower and more “full flex” the rod. Conversely, the higher the rod flex index, the faster and more “tip flex” the rod. This rating is becoming more and more helpful as companies are moving away from the often inaccurate 5:5, 6:4, 7:3, designations many have grown accustomed to.

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As Tom has evaluated more and more rods over the years, the chart has become a bit more difficult to read, especially if you’re trying to locate one specific rod from the over 150 categorized. So this past weekend I took the liberty of compiling all of that data into a simple Google Sheet that can be sorted or manipulated online, or can be downloaded for personal use.

It is available here:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1LeYYeDxRJD1W_mIGgBSkcjr62DQxqZjFPANKdt9MXcw/edit?usp=sharing

And looks sort of like this:

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Natively, the chart is set up in alphabetical order by brand, but if you want to sort/filter the info within to narrow down what you are looking for, you simply need to click on cell A6 and then apply a temporary filter from the tool bar drop down as follows:

2019-08-13 23_02_55-Window.png

And then you’ll be able to sort by any of the headers as you see fit…

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I’m not 100% done updating the chart, (I’d still like to add all of the Manufacturer’s ratings as well as links to either Tom’s review and/or the manufacturer’s website), but it’s a start. And with Tom taking a bit of a hiatus from tenkara rod testing, I probably have a little more time to make these updates.

In the meantime, I hope you find this helpful, and if you have any comments on how to make this Google Doc better, feel free to reply in the comment section of this post.

Note: The translation of this chart to a Google Sheet was an unsolicited and quirky little side project I brainstormed at an odd hour of the night, much like the idea of this magazine itself. It is presented in goodwill to the tenkara community without any commercial interest to Tenkara Angler magazine. All data contained in the chart should be attributed and credited with great appreciation to the extensive work and research of Tom Davis & Teton Tenkara. 

Southern Hospitality: Alabama’s Redeye Bass

Southern Hospitality:
Alabama’s Redeye Bass
by Chris Lynch

As a kid, I never really did much fishing. It was not a family pastime of ours. My first exposure to fly fishing was at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico when I was 16, and I absolutely loved it. Why I didn’t further pursue it in the next 15 years, is anybody’s guess.

When I moved to Montgomery, Alabama (I’m active duty United States Air Force), a new coworker of mine was a fly fishing nut. I started hanging out with him, and the fire was lit. While reading up on everything I also discovered tenkara… So, against his suggestions, I got a simple tenkara setup (Daiwa Kiyose) along with a “western” fly fishing outfit (Echo 4-weight).

Fast forward three years; I’m fishing almost exclusively tenkara, although I still have a (different) 4-weight rod and reel setup for when I feel the itch.

Alabama is NOT what you think of when somebody mentions tenkara. It just is not. Most anglers here have no clue what it is, what it means, or why you would use it. Most non-anglers are even more confused by it. In my local fly fishing circles, I’m “the tenkara guy,” and the source of a lot of ribbing, but I have managed to convert a few over in the process.

So, what do I target down here in the Deep South, when I don’t have trout?

Redeye bass!

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To further specialize in my tiny niche of tenkara in Alabama, my favorite species to pursue are the little-known group of bass that are native to the Mobile basin, known simply as “redeyes.” In 2013, redeyes in Alabama were split from the single Micropterus coosae species into four separate but unique species based on their respective watersheds and slight morphological differences: Micropterus coosae (Coosa River), Micropterus cahabae (Cahaba River), Micropterus tallapoosae (Tallapoosa River), and finally the Micropterus warriorensis (Warrior River). There is also the Micropterus chattahoochae in the, you guessed it, ‘Hooch, but it’s essentially extirpated from any flows within Alabama, and found exclusively in Georgia now.

These bass are small (8 to 12-inch average adult length), need clean, flowing water, and are very spunky, eagerly attacking topwater flies such as dries, poppers, and bugs, or even streamers. They also are mostly found in beautiful places, not unlike trout. This has given them the popular name of “Bama Brookies,” for the obvious similarities they share with everybody’s favorite native Eastern trout (char!).

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My first time on a redeye stream (in the Coosa drainage, near Mount Cheaha, Alabama’s highest point), I landed several, and started a bad addiction. These fish are so much fun to chase and catch! That was in summer of 2016, and I’ve since caught all four Mobile basin species, and intend to do it again this summer.

My usual tackle for redeyes has evolved as I’ve gotten more specialized with them as my favorite fish to target. I’ve found a softer, full flex rod with sufficient length, is my preferred method. Rods like the Daiwa Seiryu-X 45, Nissin Royal Stage or Pro-Spec in 6:4, or a longer Air Stage (390) work very well. Realistically, most redeye streams in Alabama are open enough to allow casting a longer rod like these, but there are some tributaries where a shorter one comes in handy.

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Redeyes eat a lot of the same kind of things that trout do; crawfish, insect larvae, and smaller fish. In the early spring or fall, when water temperatures are still a little on the low side, you will get most of your bites sub-surface with nymphs or streamers. In those conditions I have had good success with large (size 6-10) nymphs and kebari, like Chris Stewart’s “Keeper Kebari.” This is about where the traditional tenkara aspect of chasing redeyes ends for me though… so you may want to put on your blinders if you aren’t ready for some blasphemy!

In the hotter months, which are typically April to October in Alabama, the most fun way to catch a redeye is on the top. Whether this is dries, poppers, hoppers… it’s all about big (and often) yellow flies. Redeyes eat a ton of terrestrials, so I’ve had great days where I had a giant foam hopper on all day and it just got destroyed. However, they still act like trout in that if you miss a hookset, you might as well give up on that run, as they’ll be spooked out. These are not dumb sunfish, you still need to be on your game! One of the most popular, if not the most religiously-celebrated, flies for redeye is the Booglebug, a popper made right here in Birmingham, Alabama. People like to say you can use any color you want for redeyes, as long as it’s yellow. This has been pretty accurate from my experience.

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32884867_2000967323246619_4397607453777199104_n.jpgA good buddy of mine, Matt Lewis, recently published a book, (THE book, by the way), about these guys, Fly Fishing for Redeye Bass,” and it is the best single source of information if you have any desire to learn more about them or attempt to catch one for yourself. Matt has helped to organize a Redeye Bass Slam challenge where you can either target the four Mobile basin species, or go after all of the recognized species in the South, which comes out to seven if you count the Altamaha and Bartram’s.

A lot of what Matt is trying to do is bring attention to these awesome and unique fish, which have quite specific habitat requirements and can bring a lot of fun to anglers. Currently, Alabama has some of the most relaxed environmental protection laws in the country, while hosting some of the most diverse and rich habitat. Fortunately, we have some very active riverkeeper organizations here in the state who are working very hard to raise awareness about these issues, and fight against the many abuses of our resources.

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So, while Alabama is definitely more closely associated with college football than fixed line fly fishing, the various species of energetic redeye bass you’ll find within the Yellowhammer State will definitely provide enough southern hospitality to make your tenkara rod feel right at home.

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This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Do you have a story to tell, a photo to share, or a fly recipe that’s too good to keep secret? If you would like to contribute content to our next issue, click HERE for more details.

Fall 2019 Issue Call For Submissions

I hope everybody has been having an incredible summer! Just getting back from a mini-getaway to Colorado myself, recent memories of boulder strewn streams, high altitude lakes, and greenback cutthroat trout can’t help but bring a grin to my face. If your summer has been full of fishing, I’m certain you’ve been smiling a lot as well.

As such, I wanted to take the opportunity today to remind everyone that the submission period for the Fall 2019 issue of Tenkara Angler is officially open, a perfect time to share those experiences with the larger fixed-line fishing community.

FALL ISSUE CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

While the submission process never technically closed, I like to make these posts about a month prior to the deadline, in this case September 13th, 2019.

As always, this issue should reflect the interests of the tenkara community at large, so as long as the content – articles, photos, etc… – is tenkara, fixed-line, or conservation themed, all is fair game.

Submissions can be sent to mike@tenkaraangler.com, and more information on the submission process can be found HERE.

Kickstarter – DRAGONtail MIZUCHI zx340 Small Stream Zoom Tenkara Rod

The eagerly anticipated DRAGONtail Mizuchi tenkara rod Kickstarter is finally here.

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Ever since Teton Tenkara‘s Tom Davis teased an upcoming small stream rod he co-designed with Brent Auger of DRAGONtail Tenkara, many fans of “bluelining” for trout have just been waiting for the day to pull the trigger on a new tenkara rod purchase.

Well, wait no longer. The Mizuchi zx340 zoom rod is now available for pre-sale. This rod is unique in the fact that it is a 3-way zoom rod that in explanation, not only addresses three small stream lengths (240cm, 290cm, and 340cm), but also fishes with an appropriate flex profile at each.

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If you act quickly, you can get one of these rods at an “Early Bird” price well below the eventual retail price of $160. As of writing this article, this rod had raised more than $3000 toward the $8000 funding goal, so it appears it’s well on it’s way to production.

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To read Tom Davis’ post regarding the design and development of this rod, check out this link HERE.

Or, if small stream is not your thing, but you want to check out the full range of DRAGONtail tenkara products – including rods, lines, line holders, and nets, check out this link HERE.

Just For Fun: What’s The New Tenkara USA Rod?

The Tenkara Summit in Boulder, Colorado is in two weeks. Organized by Tenkara USA, this year’s summit celebrates 10 years of tenkara in the United States. The Summits are always great time to learn a little bit, meet people you may only know from online, see some tenkara gear in person, and of course, get out and fish. I would expect this year’s to be no different.

Recently, on social media, Tenkara USA teased that they would be introducing a new rod at this year’s Summit, their first since the Hane, which was revealed at the 2017 event.

So what is it?

I’m sure there are a few “insiders” that already know the answer, (I’m not one), but I though it would be fun to muse upon what might be released, as the scenarios are endless.

  • An existing rod, badged with a 10th Anniversary logo
  • An improved/updated version of an existing rod
  • A re-issue of a retired rod – Ayu, Ebisu, Yamame
  • A mini rod (those seem to be quite popular these days)
  • An “elevated” non-zoom rod – high end, perhaps made in Japan
  • A rod developed and manufactured in the USA
  • Totally out of the box rod – saltwater, warm water, nymphing, etc…
  • Something else

So why don’t you vote in THIS LINK and if you want to elaborate on your guess in the comments, have at it. Would welcome the conversation and speculation. Just for fun, of course…

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The Summer 2019 Cover Photo Contest Entrants…

Although you are certainly welcome to visit the current issue of Tenkara Angler magazine to see all of the cover photo contest entries, I thought I’d create a separate post to highlight them all as well. It will allow you to view these photos in a format that is not cropped for space constraints, as well as a few additional secondary entries that did not make the magazine.

All photos are below, please feel free to click into them to zoom!

Congratulations to Anthony Naples & Lino Jubilado for winning the front and back cover contests. In lieu of physical prizes, each have opted to have a charitable donation made in their names to American Rivers (Anthony) and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (Lino).

Thank you to all that entered, we’ll likely open up another photo contest for a future issue, so keep those cameras focused!


This post was presented by:
Zen Tenkara