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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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 ofBadger Tenkara, please visit their site for a fine selection of tenkara rods, lines, accessories, and advice!
Editor’s Note: Who doesn’t want to take better fish photos? “Picture or it didn’t happen!”… ever hear that before? But if you’re guilty like me of taking too many of the standard “fish in hand” photos, Jason Sparks wrote this wonderful tips and tricks post for the Winter 2015-16 issue of Tenkara Angler. Follow it closely, and you could become an Instagram rock star in no time…
Three Tips for Better [Fish] Photographs By Jason Sparks
There has never been an easier time in history than now for learning to capture better images of the things in life you want to remember. The photographs almost take themselves these days with auto-focus, auto-shutter, auto-aperture and other “auto-fantastical” settings. So why is it that we still see people disappointed by their photographs? Here are a few pointers that should lead you in the right direction for better images of that fish you worked so hard to catch… then release.
We don’t deal with film, chemicals or processing times anymore. We no longer need camera bodies and multiple lenses weighing in at eleven pounds and costing a few thousand dollars. We have instant capture, instant review and instant satisfaction capabilities at our finger tips these days. High definition digital cameras with a highly capable lens can go from taking amazing macro shots to offering some serious telephoto zoom on distances. The modern digital cameras ranging from $100 up to $300 are more than capable for most peoples everyday photography and use on social media. Let’s not forget about the digital devices welded to our palms either. These mini computers are much more than a replacement for old school telephones, they carry entire music collections, a lifelong Rolodex of contacts and our daily planners. These “phones” have also become the primary camera for many people.
It has been several years since I carried my camera bag around with me when I head out to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a family vacation or even a birthday party. Since I am not making fine art prints for sale anymore, I use my hand-sized smart phone for 99% of my photography. The last two generations of phones on the market have seen significant technology increases in the lens they have installed. The 1.3-megapixel lens that we had for nearly a decade has been blown out of the water with amazing replacements like 12MP and 16MP lens of current models. The trick for me was to get good enough with my “phone” that I felt comfortable that I was not giving up quality versus the DSLR rig now sitting in a closet. Where did I start and what did I learn?
I spent the last thirty years working on and developing the techniques that Mr. Baldwin preached in my Photo 101 class. I have tried and tested every technique that has ever interested me and have focused on the final few that have become “my style”. This is going to be an attempt to nutshell all of that into a few nuggets that you can digest. You need to be most aware of lighting, composition and focal point because the camera’s “auto-fantastic” features will hold your hand through much of the rest of it. Truth be told, if you don’t handle your three basic parts then you will find yourself in salvage mode trying to get something from nothing. No problem here, I’m sure that we can make a difference by concentrating on these areas.
Be very aware of your cameras ability to take photos in harsh and low light situations. Many times when we are out fishing the sun is wicked bright creating significant contrast with the shadows. That is hard for the sensor to compute and you will end up with “washed out” areas that are too bright and hold very little detail. Conversely, low light situations in the shadows or at dusk can create grainy images that lose all the detail and color at the other end of the spectrum.
TIP: Be aware of where your body/arm shadow is when you are holding the fish. Choose to position the fish either completely in the sun or in the shade. Don’t straddle the line.
We’ve all seen pics where the camera is too far away from the angler showing us what is effectively a landscape instead of the catch. Haven’t we also seen those trophy shots where the fish is held at arms length with the head thrust into the lens? It makes for pictures of the smallest anglers ever. Also, be cognizant of what is happening in the background. Is it something you want to include for some nice value added depth or do you want to exclude it? How about adding some creativity and art to your fish. Do something different.
TIP: Change up the angle in which you take the photograph. Consider taking a few shots of portions of the fish like only the head, tail or dorsal area. Include the felled tree in the background that you pulled him from under.
All of us are using our digital cameras on auto-focus because it is just so easy. Do you know how to override where it is focusing? By default, the settings have it focusing in the center of the frame. Once you start becoming aware of the lighting and framing your shots the focus area may not be right in the middle anymore. Most photographs of fish have a pinpoint focus on the eyeball of the fish. So how do you achieve this?
You could work on changing the camera settings, but the easiest way on a “point & shoot” camera is to aim the camera at exactly where you want the focal point to be. Now press half way down on the shutter release to set the focus. Then while holding the button half depressed, reframe the image to how you want the composition to be. Then finish depressing the shutter release. Now you can have the focus in the upper left corner or the lower middle of the frame by doing this procedure.
TIP: On your smart phone, use a free fingertip to touch the screen where you want the focal point to be. The camera will reset the focus to that point. Wait for the small subject/focus box to turn green, now shoot your photograph.
BONUS: Look into using some photo enhancing Apps like BeFunky, Photoshop Express or Instagram. These are typically free or low cost and offer a wide range of advanced features that can help you show off your stuff. The combination of filters, twists, and tweaks that you can impart onto the image can really make it stand out when you are showing off your catch with friends via email or social media.
There is no need for humdrum images from you anymore. Take control of your device and step up your game. You will be surprised at how quickly you can start producing images at a whole new level. Take a lot of pictures. Be aware of the areas we just went over. Practice these things until they become second nature. I’m sure with a little practice you too will develop and perfect your style.
Although perhaps not truly tenkara, it’s nice to see its distant cousin micro-fishing getting some additional exposure over the last week. As some of you might have heard or read, NPR did a piece and ran a nice little article (no pun intended) on fishing for micros.
One of the highlights from Day One of the 2016 Tenkara Jam was Rob Worthing’s presentation on Advanced Casting. Not only did he explain what the heck a “Supine J” is, but he also did a great job visually demonstrating for those in attendance.
If you weren’t able to make it to Cherokee, fear not! Rob’s presentation was covered in the Winter 2015/16, Spring 2016, & Fall 2016 issues of Tenkara Angler. Or, if you were at the Jam, and just want a refresher and a copy of the progression tables to practice at home, the links to each can be found below: