Video: Landing Big Fish on Tenkara with Rob Worthing

At last weekend’s Tenkara Jam, we were able to grab some video footage of Rob Worthing’s (Tenkara Guides) presentation – specifically, the portion on how to land big fish with your tenkara rod.  Rob was gracious enough to allow the video to be published for public consumption, which Tenkara Angler is presenting today.

If you enjoyed this video, please visit www.tenkaraguides.com, where Rob and his partners Erik & John have been operating the first fixed-line fly fishing-only guide service in the Western Hemisphere since 2011.

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2017 Tenkara Jam

Thought it only proper to send out a quick post this morning, as a follow-up to this past weekend’s Tenkara Jam in Boone, North Carolina. Simply wanted to express extreme gratitude to all that participated; be it from an attendee, presenter, vendor, and (of course) organizer standpoint. The tenkara community came together as one and showed very well, we should all be extremely proud of the Jam.

I also can’t say enough about the many jobs Jason Sparks took on wonderfully as host, emcee, and educator, and if he’s considering “running it back” in 2018, Tenkara Angler would love to participate again.

As a reader, if you’re new to the magazine (& website) as a by-product of the Jam, welcome. It’s great to have you here!

Since Tenkara Angler was referenced in several of the presentations, I also thought I’d list some of the links to articles that were specifically mentioned for easy referral.

As a matter of fact, most of the presenters and vendors have contributed to Tenkara Angler in one form or another since the magazine’s inception in 2015. If you’d like to page through the various back-issues at your leisure, they are best accessed for free, HERE.

The Fall 2017 Issue of Tenkara Angler is Live!

It’s my pleasure to announce that the Fall 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine is now live! So much fun to pull together, I hope you enjoy the contents within.

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This issue covers many topics, included but not limited to – all kinds of different trout, Alaskan adventures, Seiryu, tournament fishing, an interview, BEER, and wonderful essays. I think you’ll find a bit of everything in this edition.

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As usual, it 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!

Mike Agneta
Editor

Myth Busting Tenkara in Japan

Editor’s Note: As relative newcomers to the tenkara scene, many of us Westerners (with the aid of the internet) have developed certain ideas about tenkara and how it is practiced in Japan. In the Summer 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler, John Vetterli of Tenkara Guides, LLC set out to separate fact from fiction, as well as provide some insight on what traveling to Japan might really feel like for those interested in making the trip.

Myth Busting Tenkara in Japan
by John Vetterli

A while back I visited Japan for a few weeks of fishing with several recognized tenkara experts.

When I arrived in Japan, I thought I had a pretty solid grasp of how tenkara was practiced in the land of its origin. Man, I was completely off about that.

Here is the short list of tenkara myths that many westerners have about tenkara in Japan.

1. One Fly is the way Japanese tenkara anglers fish

Well, I hate to break this to you but the One Fly thing is for the most part an American interpretation of Japanese tenkara.

There are a few tenkara anglers in Japan that do use one fly pattern, very few. And within that one fly pattern there are variations of size, color, and hackle size/stiffness.

Most people I fished with used a pretty wide variety of fly and kebari patterns. These included Masami Sakakibara and Hiromichi Fuji, two of the most respected tenkara anglers in Japan.

There are some tenkara anglers in Japan who do use only one fly pattern.

Dr. Ishigaki is perhaps the most widely known One Fly Guy. These anglers are using the one fly method as a personal challenge to add a level of self-imposed difficulty. It is a game they play with themselves.

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2. Level Line Tenkara is what most anglers do in Japan

Well, not exactly.

There is a lot of personal line choice exercised in Japan. I fished with people who use tapered furled fluorocarbon lines, PVC fly line, nylon monofilament level lines, tapered nylon monofilament lines, western fluorocarbon tapered leaders as tenkara lines, and of course fluorocarbon level line.

3. All rods from Japanese companies are manufactured in Japan

There are some rod companies in Japan that make and source every component of their rods in Japan. Nissin, Gamakatsu, Tenryu, and Sakura.

Other companies like Diawa and Shimano outsource many models that are made all over Asia in places like Vietnam, China, etc. The biggest difference in outsourced rods from a Japanese company is how they manage quality control. Most of these companies send a quality control team to the out of country manufacturing facility to directly manage the production run of the rods. Every piece of the rod from raw materials to final product has direct oversight of the Japanese quality control team.

4. Tenkara is very popular in Japan

Not exactly. Modern tenkara’s heyday was most likely in the 1980s when guys like Hiromichi Fuji and Mr. Soseki were resurrecting tenkara from historical oblivion by introducing modern materials like carbon fiber and fluorocarbon to the rods and lines. These two men really brought tenkara back from the dead.

Here’s the real deal on mountain stream fishing in Japan. Fixed line bait fishing is #1 there is no contest, period. Followed by western fly-fishing and spin casting with artificial lures.

On the fly-casting side, western fly-fishing is extremely popular in Japan. You are more likely to see someone who looks like they just stepped out of the Orvis catalog than anything else.

Tenkara is a small niche in the many hundreds of different types of fishing in Japan. My friend Masami Sakakibara has said that he is pretty sure there are a great deal more tenkara anglers in America than in Japan at the moment.

Tenkara is seeing an increase in interest in Japanese anglers because of all the commotion about it here in the States.

Here is something interesting. When you look at the catalogs from the big Japanese rod manufacturers, these things are a couple of hundred pages thick and the tenkara rods are usually less than one full page of the catalog. Nissin has more variations of fixed line micro fishing or tanago rods then they have tenkara rods.

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5. Japanese streams are healthy and loaded with fish

If you travel to Japan for tenkara fishing, you had better bring your “A” game.
Many mountain streams are over fished because catch and release fishing just isn’t really practiced in Japan. Over the past few years Dr. Ishigaki and Masami Sakakibara have made a lot of progress in changing the hearts and minds of tenkara angler in Japan but it is going to be a slow road before catch and release fly fishing is widely practiced.

Many of Japan’s rivers are dammed for hydroelectric power and that has had massive impacts on Iwana and Amago fish populations in the upper mountain streams. There are fish stocking programs in Japan but the rivers and streams are broken up into co-op areas and each region of a river/stream is independently managed. When you fish anywhere in a river/stream in Japan, you must purchase a fishing license from the managing co-op. Because of this type of stream management, fish stocking is pretty much a thing of “we will stock the river when we have enough money”.

So, mountain stream fishing is tough in Japan. Anglers reduce the fish population faster than it can reproduce and the dams screw up migration.

It’s still worth the trip though.

6. Travel in and through Japan is tough for non-Japanese speakers

Travel in and around Japan is really quite easy. Many people in Japan speak English. The announcements on trains and airports are both written and spoken in English, and freeway signs are printed in both languages. The money is pretty easy to figure out. And if you get into trouble, just look for a 10 year old kid. Their English is really good and they are just dying to try it on you.

7. The food…

If you like Japanese food, then my friends you are in luck because the food in Japan is freaking awesome. Some of it can be a little strange and confusing but you can always ask someone about it. Just be adventurous and try everything and most places have pictures on the menus so it makes it a little easier.

On our first night in Japan, Erik and I were wandering around Nagoya at 10pm trying to find a place to eat. We decided on this small restaurant that had a lot of people hanging out around it so our logic was if that many people are hanging around, it must be good right? We took a chance and went inside and were taken to a small table. When handed the menus, there were no pictures. So we did what any jetlagged, starving fishing guides would do, we just randomly pointed to a line on the menu to the waiter and rolled the dice. I have no idea of what kind of sushi we had but it was amazing.

Before you go to Japan, take some time and eat at a few more traditional Japanese cuisine restaurants and ask a lot of questions to the staff about the food.

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8. Japan is really expensive

Yes and no. If you travel to Japan and only see the big cities, then yes, Japan can be very expensive. It would be no different than staying in New York City, London, Paris, etc. But, if you do your homework, you can stay and eat in Japan very reasonably. If I remember correctly, the most expensive place I stayed was $125.00 a night and that was in Osaka, one of the major cities.

When we were traveling throughout the countryside fishing, we stayed at Royokan Inns. Sort of like a bead and breakfast. Most of these places charged around $100.00 per person per night and that included breakfast and dinner. Everywhere we stayed had fantastic traditional cuisine that would set you back easily $25-50.00 per person back in the States.

9. Money…

Since Japan is arguably the most modernized country in Japan, my credit/debt cards should work everywhere, right?

If you travel to Japan, TAKE CASH. Japan is still a cash culture. Finding a place to accept a foreign credit card is downright tough. There is only one type of ATM that will accept foreign debt cards and it isn’t at a bank. It’s the Japanese Post Office. And not all of them have the right kind of ATM.

10. Japanese people are very formal and stuffy

Japan is a very polite culture. There are certain cultural protocols that come with that. It is good to have at least a minimal understanding of how one is to be introduced or to introduce someone.

For the most part, everyone we met was very friendly, inviting, and fun to be with. Every time I see Masami Sakakibara I get a big bear hug.

Remember, these master tenkara anglers are just people like you and me, they all have real day jobs, they love to fish, they all like to have a good time, they just happen to be very good at fishing tenkara through decades of experience.

I was slightly intimidated by meeting Hiromichi Fuji. I have read all of his books on tenkara and knowing his place in the modern tenkara timeline and how influential he has been, I’ll admit I was a little nervous. He is a man small in stature but commands great respect from his peers and students. When my friend Eiji Yamakawa introduced us, we both politely bowed and then he grabbed my hand and gave it a good firm handshake with a big smile.

Hiromichi Fuji is really fun to be with. He has a wicked sharp sense of humor and is very humble and relaxed once you get past the formal introduction part. Love that guy.

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11. Tenkara in Japan has very strict rules

This is where a lot has been lost in translation from Japan to the West.

Tenkara in Japan is very fluid. There are no hard rules or dogma surrounding it. Tenkara is simply a traditional form of fixed line fly-fishing practiced in mountain streams throughout Japan.

It has been said there are the 10 colors of tenkara, meaning, that for every 10-tenkara anglers there is a different and unique method being employed.

After my trip to Japan and many hundreds of Skype calls, emails, Facebook messages to my friends and mentors in Japan, I have concluded that there are really 10,000 colors of tenkara.

The way tenkara is looked at in Japan is that there are some basic tools like a telescopic rod with a fixed line attachment at the tip, a line made of what ever material and construction the angler prefers, and some flies. After that, it is pretty much open to the individual’s interpretation.

This leads us to the next and final item.

12. Tenkara anglers in Japan only use kebari pattern flies

Well, not exactly.

Let’s define the word kebari. Kebari refers to fly patterns that are native to Japan. They are not “match the hatch” type representations like we see in other parts of the world. Kebari are all not wet fly or Sakasa (Meaning forward) hackle patterns either. Kebari range widely in styles. There are dry pattern, wet pattern, and weighted pattern, forward hackle, and rearward hackle kebari.

In Japan, tenkara anglers refer to western style flies as “flies” just to keep the confusion down.

Some tenkara anglers choose to use only kebari patterns and some use a large mixture of both western flies and kebari.

To add to that, there are tenkara anglers in Japan who do match the hatch and some that don’t.

Again it all comes down to tenkara is very fluid in Japan. You can and are in fact encouraged to find your own “Tenkara Color”.

Make tenkara your tenkara. Don’t worry about anyone else’s opinions, just go out there and experiment and have fun.

White Bass On Tenkara

Editor’s Note: Today, I’d like to republish an article from the Summer 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler by Russell Husted, featuring a primer on pursuing white bass with tenkara tackle. With thoughts this week turned to the flooding in Texas, I’m hoping if you enjoy this content, rather than a “like,” “share,” or “re-tweet” of this post, that you visit the American Red Cross website. If you’ve already given support in some form, be it physical, financial, large, or small, THANK YOU!

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White Bass on Tenkara
by Russell Husted

April showers bring May’s flowers. In Texas, April showers also bring white bass, or as we call sand bass. With the hopeful spring rains, the creeks and rivers get swollen from the fresh runoff, which warms the lakes and triggers ideal spawning conditions for white bass. The bass sense the changes in the water and group up to begin their annual run into the creeks and rivers. They come by the thousands, and can be found in large numbers during these conditions. If you find a large pod of white bass, and use the right technique, catches of over 100 bass a day are very common. And can be done easily if conditions are right.

For as long as I can remember, we would target white bass with a 3 to 5 weight rod, and use small Clousers, or minnow imitations to catch white bass. This technique has always been the combination that works best. Over the years, we discovered that the smaller the fly, or even the sparser fly, they would work so much better. So we started tying smaller flies using less materials.

Then we discovered a pattern that was made famous by the late Andy Moreau. Andy tied simple, small jig flies that white bass could not resist. The flies were just strands of floss tied on a very small jig hook. They only took about 1 minute to tie one up, and we called them fast and ugly flies!!! But boy did they work. The experiment continues.

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Then I found some jig head hooks my friend David Crawford made. These jigs were tiny. 1/125th of an ounce. We made some Andy Moreau jig flies with these new hooks, and it totally changed the way we fished for white bass. The jigs were so light, they would never sink to the bottom of the creek or river if there was current. So when your line slightly moved when drifting these flies in the river, you knew you had a strike. Another thing we found out was that these small jig flies were actually indestructible, and would last all day, while catching as many white bass as you could handle.

Then I was introduced to Tenkara. Fascinated by this new technique, I quickly used an Ito in Colorado for trout fishing. It was awesome, and I immediately fell in love with how easy it was to control a drift using a high stick technique. After a very successful trout trip, we return home and I started creek fishing for sunfish, perch, gills, or anything that would hit a fly in my favorite summer creeks. The seasons change, and the Ito gets stored away till spring. Then it hits me.

Why not use a Tenkara rod for white bass?

So the story unfolds. The Ito is loaded up with a handful if micro jigs, and it’s off to the favorite spring time river for white bass. I locate a large pod of sandies, so we call them, and it’s not long to see if the experiment works. A simple cast, and let the small micro jig swing downstream, and I feel a hard take. I swing the Ito downstream, and the micro jig is set into a very nice sandie. The sandie made some several hard runs, and it felt so good on the Ito.

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A quick release, and I am back at it. The next cast, another nice sandie. As I mentioned earlier, if you find a pod, and conditions are right, numbers can be had rather quickly, and today that was the case. In the next hour, an additional twenty something sandies fall prey to the micro jig on the Ito rod. The story ends with a new, successful arsenal for my favorite style of fishing.

Many more trips were had this spring, with similar results. But as the world turns and the seasons change, I am back to creek fishing for gills and perch, and soon to Colorado for trout.

Tenkara is definitely a year round way of fishing.

Friendly Reminder: Fall Submission Deadline September 8th

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No, the future isn’t that grim. Simply wanted to post a “2 Week” reminder of the submission deadline for the Fall 2017 Issue of Tenkara Angler.

We’ve received a handful of articles and photos so far, including a very interesting one on competition tenkara, so really looking forward to having you join us as part of the next magazine!

For a refresher on how to submit your article, photograph, artwork, gear review, etc… please check out the Submission Guidelines section of the site, HERE.

Adapting Tenkara for Smallmouth Bass

Editor’s Note: It was recently asked in a Facebook group if there were people out there fishing for smallmouth bass with their tenkara tackle, and what rods they preferred. Well, in an attempt to answer that question in the future, I’d like to republish this article from the Winter 2015-16 issue of Tenkara Angler by Matt Sment & Mike Lutes. Avid bronzeback chasers, they leave few stones unturned in this excellent essay.

Adapting Tenkara for Smallmouth Bass
by Matt Sment & Mike Lutes

By now, the majority of fixed line anglers are familiar with Tenkara’s origin story. It is a well-known fact that it was developed on high gradient drainages to catch cold water species. These conditions translated easily to some areas of the US, but many regions simply don’t host mountain streams. Luckily, it turns out that Tenkara is exceptionally well suited for other terrains and species too!

In warm water sport fishing, Smallmouth Bass just may be the ultimate match for Tenkara. It’s a fish that is native to North America, and while it requires warmer water, it thrives in structure and current conditions similar to those favored by trout. It is an opportunistic and aggressive feeder. Smallmouth are known to hunt on the move, but often launch explosive strikes from ambush positions near structure. Once hooked, they are ferocious fighters! Once for ounce, there is simply no better fight out there. On a Tenkara rod, every 12-inch fish is a thrill ride, and anything 15 inches and up feels like a clash between titans!

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We’ve spent a lot of time fishing for Smallmouth with Tenkara systems over the past few years, both on smaller “trout stream” sized creeks and larger rivers. In this article, we’ll discuss our observations on gear and tactics that are producing results for us on smallmouth creeks here in Wisconsin’s Driftless region. You’ll see that we’ve adapted what is already a simple system into something species and terrain specific – which ends up even simpler!

Rods:
We think that the average 11-13 foot, 6:4 or 7:3 action rod offered by most American companies is just about perfect for 10-15 inch smallies on a typical creek. Softer tipped Japanese rods with highly refined actions are great for level lines and light fly patterns, but they are poorly suited for throwing the larger payloads we’ve come to prefer. Additionally, a rod with some “backbone” to it comes in handy when you need to dig in your heels against a big run. It’s true that flexibility protects the rod, but without some stiffness to rely on, it’s going to be really difficult to turn that crazy ‘bronzeback when it goes ballistic downstream.

While we have spent time fishing smallmouth streams with “big fish” rods, we found them to be an overmatch for the size of the fish we were catching. One might consider making the leap into “bigger fish” rods if they are regularly targeting 16+ inch Bass or fishing in heavier current and larger/deeper water, but for creeks and streams, we recommend you stick with “regular” rods to maximize the excitement!

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Fishing a “regular” Tenkara rod will make average fish more exciting, and in most cases will stand up to larger Bass too!

Line and Tippet:
There are two major factors that drive our preferences for line and tippet. First, Smallmouth Bass are not very leader shy. We aren’t saying that they are “easy”… but they are nowhere near as spooky as trout. Second, we are typically casting larger and heavier fly patterns on our Tenkara rods than we do when we fish for trout. These two factors combined mean that we are less concerned about line signature, and need some extra line mass to help cast larger flies.

We both prefer light-weight floating lines for Smallmouth Bass fishing. In our opinion, the requirement for throwing larger flies makes level line a poor choice. Furled line would be better suited for the task, but its need for floatant to keep it from sinking is something we are not fond of. The light-weight floating line offers the mass we need to throw bigger patterns and lacks the complications that come with furled lines.

Our usual rigging is about 12-16 of line, depending on the size of the water we are fishing. Fishing a line length that is longer than the rod does increase the difficulty in keeping line off the water, but as we’ve discussed, that is not a big issue in bass fishing.

As far as tippet goes… we save it for the trout! This where it pays to know the water and species you are fishing. Smallmouth simply are not spooky enough to warrant its use, and in small and medium streams, the 10-15 inch bass you are targeting with the average Tenkara rod aren’t putting the rod in threat, so the “safety” concept is largely unnecessary. Instead, we use 4-6lb test monofilament line. Our favorite choice is “the cheapest that is currently on sale”. Normally, we rig up with 6-8 feet of mono, tied directly to the end of the floating line.

On average, we are fishing 30-36 foot systems and making casts in the 25-35 foot range. We tend to use systems on the shorter side when fishing solo because that makes landing the fish a bit easier. When you’ve got a buddy nearby that can assist with the landing, don’t be afraid to stretch out to longer lengths if you want to experiment!

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Fly Choice and Tactics:
Nymphs will work sometimes. So will dries. And poppers. But for consistent action, we recommend you pick a streamer of some sort. Why’s that? Because we’ve both found that we can make streamers produce under the widest variety of circumstances. We believe that this is because general purpose streamer patterns feature a decent amount of movement and a bold profile.

Mike caught nearly all of his smallmouth this year on a size 6 or 8 white cone headed streamer with a strip of rabbit fur.This remarkably effective fly can be twitched and retrieved at varying speeds or simply dead drifted. You can allow it to sink before the retrieve to get it deep or strip it fast across the surface to elicit top-water strikes. The rabbit fur has a killer fluttering action that the bass just love!

Mike tends to use the weighted fly to work the horizontal axis, targeting deeper holes with thorough drifts. He’ll move through each level of the water column with a combination of dead drifts, twitching retrieves, and erratic “altitude change” retrieves where the fly will climb and dive rapidly. He prefers to fish upstream or up and across and work the drift back towards him.

Matt spent most of the year fishing for bass with an unweighted Pass Lake in size 6. Many of the strikes took place within seconds of the fly landing, so there wasn’t much time for technique!

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The standard pattern calls for white wings, but we also tested some with chartreuse wings. Both proved equally irresistible. Being unweighted, you have to use current and time to sink it, but the vast majority of the strikes it drew this year were nearly instant-upon-arrival topwater hits or occurred in the top 12 inches of the water column as the fly was being stripped, swung, or otherwise actioned through current.

Matt likes to work wider vertical areas (down and across swing on a long riffle), or short deliberate drifts near structure (up and to the left of that rock, with a 2-3 foot drift past as it sinks). He’ll often do 2-3 passes over a target area and then move on. The first pass will be a dead drift, the second some kind of twitchy motion, and the third will be an aggressive strip. If a certain technique besides the dead drift seems to be producing more often than others, he’ll start off with that instead.

One big difference between trout and smallmouth, is that bass are not put off by a splashy presentation. On the contrary, they can be quite attracted to noisy landings! Tenkara rods make it easy to add some “spice” to your presentation, simply by tapping your index finger against the cork grip as you land the fly and adding a small thrashing action by means of quick tip shake. After all, how many times have you had a small bluegill on the hook and watched bass come rocketing up out of the depths to come investigate? You can even incorporate the “tapping” component into your retrieves and drifts. I’ve had days where the fish wouldn’t move an inch, but add some tapping and they’d hit the exact same fly and presentation they’d ignored a moment before!

We both agree that you are best off getting in the water to fish. Assuming that there is no safety risk in wading, get your feet wet and use the lower profile to your advantage. Your presence in the water will not hinder your chances of catching fish at this range, and you’ll most likely have the ability to cast to both sides of the stream from a central position. You can move from bank to bank as needed.

Smallmouth bass run and fight hard! Here are a few tips that have worked to help us bring them to hand:

Be aware of your position in the stream, nearby current, depth, etc. Do what you can to steer them away from entanglements and bunkers early in the fight.

Move your feet. If can move safely, a few steps forward or to the side can make a huge difference in that moment when you and the fish are balanced on a fine edge and struggling for control of the rod. Stay mobile!

Another trick to change the dynamic when the fish is running straight away from you is to take a quick, small step forward and then turn your whole body to the side. Turning your whole body can put the bend back into the rod and get you back into control of the fish quickly. This can be done in place if you are in a position where you cannot safely move.

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Final Thoughts
We were discussing this article over beers (Mike, a Belgian Abbey ale, Matt a Sprecher’s root beer) and having a difficult time articulating just what it is we enjoy about bass fishing so much. During the discussion, Mike mentioned brought up that when he fishes after a night shift, he usually chooses to fish for smallmouth bass as he generally finds it so relaxing. Matt related that he had been out fishing for Smallmouth this summer with a friend that they were having so much fun they were laughing like kids. And that is when it crystallized for us…

As much as we enjoy trout fishing, there is always a certain pressure that goes along with it. Yes, it can be very relaxing, but if you are not careful, you can also be tense while trout fishing. While we really enjoy the constant analysis and engagement that is part of a day on a trout stream, that level of mental activity can be fatiguing. Trout fishing is appealing in part for its endless complexity. Stream fishing for bass is enjoyable because of its relative simplicity. Lastly, I don’t think we can underestimate the “fishing like you did when you were 10 years old factor”. I suspect many of us fish because it reminds us of carefree childhood days spent on the water. We have found stream fishing for smallmouth gets us closer to that ideal.

A fierce native species that is uncomplicated to catch and fights like a demon, paired with a simple system of tools that is uncomplicated to fish and is easily adapted to local conditions. It’s a perfect match!

Matt & Mike are the proprietors of Badger Tenkara, please visit their site for a fine selection of tenkara rods, lines, accessories, and advice!