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Landlocked Salmon on Tenkara Rods

Landlocked Salmon on Tenkara Rods
By Bart Lombardo

Landlocked salmon have always been one of my favorite fish to pursue with a fly rod, so it seemed natural to discover if they can be reliably taken on tenkara rods. Landlocked salmon are a freshwater version of the sea run Atlantic Salmon, living in large freshwater lakes instead of the Atlantic Ocean. In the United States, landlocked salmon were originally found in four lake systems in Maine, as well as the Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain drainage. The Lake Ontario population went extinct over a hundred years ago, but the original range of the landlocked salmon has since been extended to over 175 lakes and 44 rivers in Maine alone. Native populations can also be found in Canada, Scandinavia, and eastern Russia. They have also been introduced to far away places such as New Zealand and Argentina.

It is unclear why these fish choose to live in fresh water. While certain populations seemed to have been trapped by changes in geography over the millennia, others appear to taken to living in freshwater voluntarily as is the case in the four lake systems in Maine. At one time all of these watersheds had access to the ocean before being restricted by dams. Landlocked Salmon will live one to four years in rivers before migrating into freshwater lakes. They return to rivers and streams to spawn in the fall, and they will often follow smelt, their primary forage, into rivers and streams in the spring. It is during these times that I chase landlocked Salmon with a fly rod.

In Maine, where I usually target landlocked salmon, they average 16-18 inches and weigh between 1.5 and 2 pounds. Fish over 20 inches are not uncommon. Combine the size of the fish with their propensity for going airborne when hooked they can be a real challenge to land using tenkara rods.

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If you decide to fish tenkara for landlocked salmon you need to consider your equipment carefully. Rod choices will have to lean in the direction of those that can handle larger fish. Many of the streams that harbor these fish can be quite large so a longer rod is advantageous. I have two rods in my current arsenal that are up to the task.

The Ito and the Amago, both by Tenkara USA, had no problem handling these hard fighting fish. The Amago is a rod that is designed for larger fish. At thirteen feet six inches in length, it is ideally suited for larger streams and small rivers. The Amago has a little more backbone than most tenkara rods, making it an ideal choice for landlocked salmon. The Ito, though not necessarily designed for big fish, proved to be up to the task as well. The Ito is a zoom rod meaning it can be fished at two different lengths, in this case, thirteen feet and fourteen feet, seven inches, making it perfect for larger water.

Of course, these two tenkara rods are not your only options. There are other makers here in the US and Japan that are offering rods that are capable of landing fish more than sixteen inches.

One rod that has been on my wish list for a while is the Tenkara Tanuki 425. Everything I have read about this set up indicates it should work well for these larger fish; it has the length and backbone to get the job done. Another that comes to mind is the Owyhee model by Tenkara Rod Company. I have not had an opportunity to fish it, but it is being marketed as a “big fish” rod. I’m sure there are other tenkara rods out there, that I am unaware of, that would also be up to the task.

The type of line to use depends on conditions, personal preference and the fishing method you are using. Either level lines or furled lines will work well. My personal preferences lean towards level lines because I can easily create the line length I need. In most conditions, I start with a line one and a half times the length of the rod. Under some conditions such as presenting a dry fly, a line length twice the length of the rod can be advantageous.

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When fishing nymphs with a tenkara rod, I will shorten the length of my system considerably. I may use a line and leader combination no longer than the rod itself. One of the advantages of tenkara rods is the extra reach allows for nymphing beyond that of a standard fly rod. In some cases “just because you can, does not mean you should.” On more than one occasion I have hung my flies on the bottom and have not been able to wade far enough out to collapse the rod and grab hold of the line top break off the flies. You should never attempt to break off flies by applying pressure with the rod. Doing this may result in a broken rod. By fishing a shorter line, you can avoid this problem.

Since casting distance can be somewhat limited by the fixed length of the rod and line, a stealthy approach is warranted. By wading carefully and reducing your silhouette as much as possible, you can easily get within casting distance. Fortunately, landlocked salmon are not as spooky as their trout cousins, but that does not mean you can march right up on them. What this does mean is long distance casts are not needed if you can make a stealthy approach.

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Fighting a landlocked salmon will put your skills to the test. This fish loves taking to the air, sometimes tail walking across the surface of the water. I find that dropping your rod tip in these situations usually spells disaster. While the technique may work with western tackle, you never want to point a tenkara rod at a fish. The flex of the rod is your friend when fighting a fish. The soft tip of a tenkara rod will usually absorb the impact of a leaping fish. Lowering your rod tip may result in the fish running and leaving you pointing your rod directly at the fish. The best you can hope for with a powerful fish like a landlocked salmon is a broken tippet. The worst-case scenarios can result in rod sections being pulled apart or a lillian being yanked off the tip of your rod.

With even pressure kept on landlocked salmon, they tire pretty quickly and can be brought to hand and netted. I do my best to discourage the fish from getting into heavy current and running downstream. If this happens your only option is to chase it. You may be tempted to use heavier tippet when fishing for landlocked salmon, but I don’t recommend it. When a big fish gets into fast water, and I can’t follow it, I would rather lose the fish to a broken tippet than put undue strain on my rod.

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One of my favorite ways to fish for landlocked salmon is throwing streamers at them. Landlocks readily take streamer patterns, as their primary forage include smelt and other baitfish. Fishing a streamer on a tenkara rod is not an ideal situation. Fortunately, landlocked salmon show a preference for feather wing streamers and sparsely tied bucktails. Unlike many streamer patterns, feather wing and bucktail style flies are quite light and are easily presented on a larger tenkara rod. The only difficulty I encountered is setting the hook properly. Lighter tippets and very flexible rod tips can make this challenging. Fortunately landlocks slam streamers so hard they usually hang themselves. I have also started tying some of the most effective landlocked streamer patterns as wet flies and have enjoyed success with them. These smaller patterns are very easy to cast. In addition to streamers and wet flies, swinging soft hackles can be an effective method for taking landlocked salmon. Fished as a single fly or in tandem, soft hackles can be fished upstream or down and across very effectively with a tenkara rod.

Once landlocked salmon return to moving water they take on the feeding habits of their youth and they will readily feed on insect life as well. Traditional nymph, wet and dry flies all work well. When fishing for landlocked salmon in the spring, the fish are in the rivers following the rainbow smelt migration. However, they will also key in on the Hendrickson and Caddis hatches that occur during this time of year. Reversed hackle tenkara flies tied to imitate these two insects can be deadly. Last spring I tied a “Hendrickson Kebari” which worked quite well. Even though it only has one season under its belt I think it will be a keeper. I fished the kebari pattern as a dropper behind a traditional Hendrickson dry fly, and the kebari outperformed the dry fly two to one.

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Emerging Hendrickson Kebari Recipe:
Hook – TMC 101 size 14
Tail: Crinkled Zelon color to match natural in this case a caddis tan
Body:  Brown pheasant tail fibers
Hackle:  Brown hen

Are landlocked salmon another species to pursue with Tenkara? Absolutely! Just be sure to choose a tenkara rod suited for them. If you have a river or stream nearby that holds landlocked salmon give them a try.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016-17 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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3 Week Submission Warning: Tenkara Angler Winter 2018-19 Issue

Figured I’d drop a quick note to everybody to remind them that the deadline to contribute submissions to the Winter 2018-19 issue of Tenkara Angler is only 3 weeks away!

Typically, I’ll wait until 2 weeks to send out a message, but with the holiday season here, I know it’s a hectic (although enjoyable) one for everyone, so figured it was best to be a little proactive.

A reminder, the themes for the Winter issue are traditional tenkara and/or tenkara art. More details can be found here.

If any inspiration is needed, I’m going to begin to re-publish all of the great articles from the Winter 2016-17 issue of Tenkara Angler to the blog as standalone posts over the next 3 weeks. They should serve as both an idea generation tool, but are also a great opportunity to revisit some top notch and still very relevant content from two years ago.

And if you’re new to Tenkara Angler, make sure to subscribe by email (check the left-hand side of the page for the box to enter your address) to be notified of new posts and content.

Call For Submissions: Tenkara Angler Winter 2018-19 Issue

Tenkara Angler Winter 2018-19

With this post, I’d like to officially make the “call for submissions” for the Winter 2018-19 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine. The deadline for content will be Friday, December 7th, 2018, with the target publication date either in late December or early January.

As usual, more details can be found here:
https://tenkaraangler.com/submission-guidelines/

The theme of this quarter’s issue will focus on two areas: traditional tenkara and/or tenkara art.

So let’s dig out some stories about your adventures in high gradient, headwater streams in search of native trout… possibly your favorite kebari or wet fly tying recipe… some details of coldwater conservation efforts from your home waters… or a photograph, sketch, painting, or even poem that’s tenkara-themed; involving any combination of mountains, forest, & fish.

Please don’t misinterpret this quarter’s theme as a knock against fixed-line fly fishing techniques, such as bead-head nymphs & streamers, or even an indictment of warm water species such as bass, carp, or bluegill. Please continue to send in your stories of those subjects, I’d simply like to try and curate and focus an issue for the winter months that mostly pivots back toward the core of tenkara technique, not a tenkara rod as a tool. Hopefully, that small ask will not sour either the readers or content creators toward the upcoming Winter issue.

As always, I’m extremely humbled and thankful for all of the participation in and support behind Tenkara Angler magazine. We have a wonderful community of tenkara & fixed-line anglers, one I feel fortunate to play a small role in celebrating.

Mike Agneta
Editor, Tenkara Angler

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Photo: Bryan Trantham

The Fall 2018 Issue of Tenkara Angler Is Now Live!

It’s my pleasure to announce that the Fall 2018 Issue of Tenkara Angler magazine is now live!

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One of the challenges/themes for the contributors in this issue was to provide the readers with some tenkara lifestyle stories. Not necessarily “how-tos” but rather accounts of experiences, outings, and adventures. The essays from Brad Trumbo, Keith Anderson, Brittany Aae, Mike Hepner, & Nick Pavlovski certainly do not disappoint.

Now we didn’t neglect other subjects, such as kebari (flies), gear, interviews, tactics, warm water fixed-line fly fishing, conservation, and destination. The article about tenkara in Hokkaido, Japan by the founder of Tenkara USA, Daniel Galhardo is excellent.

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As usual, the Fall issue will be available as a free e-magazine over at Issuu, HERE.

And also available for sale as a physical magazine and PDF download in the Blurb bookstore, HERE.

Enjoy!

Reader’s Corner: What Trout Want & Simple Flies

Reader’s Corner:
What Trout Want and Simple Flies
By Anthony Naples

Winter is coming. Well it’s a little while off still. But a guy can dream. I happen to love winter. Autumn is nice too. Who doesn’t love the smell of fallen leaves crunching underfoot and the crisp mornings warming to comfy afternoons? And of course the splendid dress of the brookies trying to impress their ladies. But fall can make me a little frantic as I know that prime fishing weather is slipping away. Every trip feels as though it may be the last of the season. Spring has that hopeful feeling of a fishing season just coming into its own. Summer can be just fantastic salad days of easy fishing, and then when the trout streams get low and slow I can usually switch over to some local warm water smallmouth streams. But autumn, though the fishing can be the best since early summer, has that nagging feeling of something slipping away.

Winter for me has no fishing expectations. I get out from time to time when the weather and schedule permits— but those trips are a gift. I can still look back on the fall fishing with good memories, still mull them over and think on them and enjoy them. But the winter is a time of comfort and relaxation. I don’t like the heat. The dog days of summer are my least favorite time of the year. Winter makes me feel alive again— the bracing air, the crunch of fresh snow underfoot, no yard work to do.

And then there’s the reading. Sitting inside, frosty windowpanes, hot cup of coffee and a good book. Most likely the book is science fiction, non-fiction science, nature or fishing. Winter is a good time for woodshedding, preparing, planning and thinking about the next season. It’s a good time to rethink things, to look back on the fishing season and think about what went right and what went wrong and what you might want to try next time around. And of course a good time to fill those fly boxes.

With all that in mind I have a few recommendations for your upcoming winter reading list – of course you don’t have to wait to winter. You could get started early and maybe even have time to implement some of what you learn and use some of the flies that you tie this fall.

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What Trout Want: The Educated Trout and Other Myths by Bob Wyatt

Reading this book is a little like being Neo in The Matrix. So part of the speech that Morpheus delivers to Neo before making him choose whether he wants to really learn about the Matrix might be in order…

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Remember… all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more…. follow me.”

-Morpheus, The Matrix

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I hope that you choose the red pill…

The first part of this book is dedicated to what Mr. Wyatt calls “A Beautiful Fiction”, wherein he systematically picks apart much of what the previous few hundred years of fly fishing literature has taught us about trout and more specifically the idea of “educated trout” and “finicky trout” and “fly refusal”. And he does a pretty thorough job of it. He points to trout behavior that has led the fly fishing world to attribute much more intelligence, decision making ability and learning capacity to trout than he thinks they ought to be given, and provides alternative and simpler explanations based on experience and science. He then gives us his thoughts on what is really important to the trout and and some basic fly patterns that will cover most situations that the trout fisher will need to imitate the insects (and stages).

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Bob Wyatt’s Deer Hair Sedge

I don’t want to give it all away.

But let’s say it’s something to do with what many tenkara anglers have been suspicious of— presentation….

Mr. Wyatt is not a “one-fly” proponent in the way that some tenkara anglers may be. He’s not afraid to admit that trout get selective at times. And that a different fly may be needed, but the key feature of the fly is likely not what we’ve been taught by mainstream fly fishing. He’s in the school that says fly size is probably the most important factor (assuming adequate presentation too of course) not body color, wing material, tails, ribbing and/or other anatomical details.

I have not always been in this camp. But after taking up tenkara, my views have shifted. Though up till now I still hadn’t gone so far over to all of what Wyatt discusses in this book. I may be converted now – though I need to do some field testing.

If you’re coming to tenkara from a fly fishing background this book may really help you to clear away all of the excesses that you’ve picked up along your journey and give you a nice grounding in why you should reconsider the “common knowledge”. If you’re new to fly fishing, and tenkara is your entry point, this book will give you a solid foundation on which to build.

Some readers may think Mr. Wyatt goes too far – some may think not far enough – and like all fly fishing books I’m sure there are things in it that you just won’t be able to agree with completely based on your own experiences. After all the author is not immune to the biases that affect all of us, such as confirmation bias and availability bias. But I do get the feeling that he’d be happy to discuss things with you and keep an open mind.

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Bob Wyatt’s Deer Hair Emerger

In the end, for me this book provided a slightly different perspective on the trout and it’s brain that I hadn’t really quite grasped previously, and I’m willing to open my mind up to the idea that I’ve been wrong about a few things. Next trout season will be the time for some serious investigation of the ideas in What Trout Want.

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Simple Flies: 52 Easy-to-Tie Patterns that Catch Trout by Morgan Lyle

I’m not going to go on too long about this book. I’ve written about it previously when I presented an interview with Morgan Lyle on my Three Rivers Tenkara blog and in a previous issue of Tenkara Angler. But I think it’s well worth mentioning it here again in the context of having just read Bob Wyatt’s book, because I first heard about What Trout Want in Morgan Lyle’s book and in the interview that I did with him.

What Trout Want lays down a great technical and theoretical background – but it is not a fly tying book. It presents only a few basic patterns – which considering the author’s entire thesis is probably quite appropriate. If you want to take what you’ve learned in Bob Wyatt’s book but also learn to tie some additional patterns for other species and situations, then Simple Flies is the book you want.

Morgan presents some great, easy to tie patterns and step by step instructions to go with them – along with additional background on the ideas behind using simple flies – it is more than just a tying manual.

Armed with these two books you’ll have a very productive off-season of reading and tying in preparation for your most successful trout season yet. Also it doesn’t hurt that Morgan Lyle is a member of our tenkara brotherhood and tenkara gets it’s due in his book.

Good reading!

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Columbine Meadows

Columbine Meadows
By Sam Larson

The sky presses close overhead, dark grey and rippled with the texture of winter storm clouds. There’s no wind. Just the overwhelming stillness of the first autumn day where winter starts knocking on the door and summer packs her bags to take the long road south for the season. I have my tenkara rod and gear with me, chest pack laid over top my wind shell and net swinging back and forth from my shoulders, but my rod isn’t rigged up yet. The collapsed tenkara rod swings easily in my hand as I stomp down the path in my wading boots.

I’m walking in the creek and remembering trout. I know this river, have walked it almost my whole life, and each bend and sandbar has its memory. At the foot of the bridge I stop think about the big brookie that holds here, with his small kype and dark black streaks around his jaw blending into a rich swirl of spawning colors. He’s the king of a stream where fish multiply, stunt, and rarely top eight inches. I wonder where he is, whether he’s sunk down low in the cold water, preparing for winter, or whether he’s given up his hard-fought climb to the top of this particular food chain, tumbled downstream over rocks and riffles to be picked apart by other, lesser fish.

Depressing thoughts, I tell myself… Autumn thoughts.

Above the bridge is a stretch that I don’t fish. In the spring and summer it’s too overgrown, a tunnel of trees and brush that meet and intertwine overhead. In this part of the creek flies migrate to the trees by way of my backcast, forming a sparse, tattered constellation of feathers, hooks, and tippet in the branches. I leave this part of the river to the fish and the dappled, leafy shade. But autumn strips the leaves and brush from the banks and, for the first time since last winter, I can see the bones of the river; the gravel and sand rippling along the bottom, the splash of clear water, and the stark, rocky banks.

I wade noisily upstream, noting lies and eddies where I’ve landed fish, favorite spots where I can always find a fish that will rise to an emerger or a micro Chernobyl Ant. Next season, after winter, spring, and a heavy runoff have had their way with the river, things will be different. Old, familiar beaver ponds will vanish, swept clear by rising water, and new deadfall will redirect the current, carving channels and cut banks to house the coming summer’s brook trout. In spring I’ll come back to a river that I claim to know and have to learn about it all over again.

Stretches of the creek have accumulated names over the years: The Swimming Hole, the Cow Ford, and the Magic Stretch, where the fishing is always good. The Bridge, the Black Pines, and the Rocks, where I am now. In the middle of the creek two tall boulders are framed by deep currents. In late fall’s low water, I can approach and scramble up their backs, sit astride them and look up and down stream.

An advancing wedge of clouds noses over the ridge to the south and starts to tumble down the valley, bringing vague puffs of wind along with it. The smell of snow is thick in the air and if I want to get any fishing done I need to keep moving upstream. The granite rasps on my waders as I slide down the Rocks and splash heavily back into the stream. A pod of brookies darts out of the pool I landed in and vanishes downstream. I note them but keep walking upstream towards an appointment I’ve made with a few favorite bends, above the twisted bramble and trees of the valley.

As the valley continues to narrow I step out of the water and follow a faint footpath through the crackling brown grass. It traverses a steep hillside and rises quickly above the water. Through the bare treetops, now at eye level, the pebbled bottom of the creek is visible. Clouds continue to edge down the side of the valley opposite.

I feel as though I’m climbing into the sky, heading upstream and upslope, parting swirling tails of fog with my tenkara rod and splitting violent cracks in the cloudy silence with every branch that snaps underfoot. I feel small, one man climbing inside a vast silence. The physical presence of the sky leans in so close that it seems I could cast a fly upwards and play a cloud into my net. Or perhaps, where the creek recedes into the lowering horizon, I’d get hauled upwards through a river of fog by a bucking trout-shaped swirl of mist, angrily shaking streamers of vapor from its silver-gray tail.

My boot slips on a clump of grass and I have to put out a hand to steady myself. That’s the wakeup call I needed to stop staring at the clouds and start paying attention to the thin trail ahead of me.

Columbine Meadows is a flat, square-acre field projecting off the side of a steep hill. Beneath the pines in the center of the meadow blue columbines remain hidden long after they’ve faded away elsewhere. Above the meadow the river slows into broad curves across the bottom of the valley. Sweeping cut banks and glassy flats replace the pockets and small eddies that define the lower stretches. This is the kind of water that offers curious trout all the time they need to hover below a fly and pass judgment before they commit to taking a bite.

My level line tumbles off the foam spool in loops and whorls, nothing a few false casts won’t shake out. The water is clear and low, and the peacock and partridge soft hackle that I’d already decided to tie on seems like a good place to start. A puff of wind sends the line out behind me like a pennant and there is snow falling around me. The ticking and rustling of the snow on my jacket and hat brim is loud in the overcast silence. The dry grass whispers in the new breeze and my boots crunch in the gravel of the river bed as I walk towards the first seam, thinking about rivers, trout, the coming winter, and the spring that will follow.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Where The Water Forks

Where The Water Forks
By Nathaniel Skaggs

Parking on the side of the road, the sounds of a clear mountain stream echo throughout the quiet stretch along Rocky Fork Road. Small cascades create deep pools that scream large, hungry mountain trout.

It is the first cool morning of September, and autumn teases the end of another hot, dry summer. You know dry flies are becoming useless on the larger rivers and streams, unless you use a Light Cahill or Adams between size 12-18. However, these enthusiastic mountain fish can be tempted by anything that looks real enough to provide energy for the upcoming colder months.

Though it is a younger state park in northeastern Tennessee, Rocky Fork State Park proves to hold both eager rainbows and a wise older trout that require delicate presentations and realistic flies. Do not trouble yourself with matching the hatch on these waters, these fish can spot the difference.

These pristine waters are wide enough to use a nice 9-foot, 3-weight outfit with enough room for a good false cast that curls around the boulder next to a small cascade; on the other hand, you choose an eight foot tenkara rod in order to get to the smaller pocket directly underneath several branches of rhododendron maximum.

A Louisiana waterthrush stands on a rock watching you, it’s hard, metallic chip, a reminder that your fly is not tempting to just the trout. Working upstream, a rise indicates a larger rainbow feeding right at subsurface.

Passing hikers stop and watch what will sure to be a magical moment for any angler on small mountain streams in southern Appalachia. Picking a size 16 Light Cahill and adding an extra six inches of 7x tippet, you delicately place the fly on top of a small rock a yard or two above the rise. For these fish, you only have one chance before the entire pool is spooked and washed out.

A small flick pops the fly up and down into the creek without even a ripple. Breathing stops. Hikers stand, unmoving while the same waterthrush trains a quiet eye on the fly. The Cahill disappears without anyone noticing. A quick jerk and fight later, you hold an Appalachian prize.

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The size does not matter to you or the cheering hikers, only that you convinced one fish to rise above the water’s edge where the water forks.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.