Respecting Our Roots: Making A Case For Modern Japanese Tenkara in the USA

Respecting Our Roots: Making A Case For Modern Japanese Tenkara in the USA
By Adam Klagsbrun

Fixed line fly-fishing may be centuries old, but as it is practiced today, tenkara is new. Tenkara is modern. Tenkara is not from the USA – tenkara is from Japan.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the years about what tenkara actually is, and what the definition of tenkara should be. There has also been discussion about what tenkara is not, and that seems to have created some really interesting, and in some cases intense, dialogue. What perplexes me the most is why some people immediately get defensive and upset about being told that fishing for bass or crappie in local warm water ponds and slow-moving rivers isn’t “Tenkara.” My goal in this article is to lay a foundation of understanding, to make a case for why it is important to keep tenkara from being re-defined, and to explain why we shouldn’t be the ones to re-define it here and now.

At this point most of us know the story about how Daniel Galhardo started Tenkara USA around 2009. What many do not know, or have not paid attention to, is how he honored tenkara’s roots in Japan and did not try to sell it to us as something that it was not. Sure, he added a more minimalist pitch in his marketing, but it made sense, given that from what I recall, the earliest adopters of this sport here appeared to be, in fact, ultralight backpackers who were largely exposed to Tenkara USA via Ryan Jordan at backpackinglight.com.

What Daniel did was to go spend time with Japanese tenkara anglers who were involved in creating and naming tenkara, the people who actually defined it for modern times, in Japan. He asked them questions. He listened to the answers. He watched the anglers. He learned from them. He got the definition. What he brought and packaged for us here in the USA was very close to tenkara as it was in Japan, and so began our adventures with tenkara here in the USA.

Since that point, Tenkara has grown to encompass a larger group of fishermen and a broader range of styles. As soon as there was a market established, other companies jumped in. Many of them became known as “me too” companies – some survived by producing great quality products at reasonable prices and attained a permanent seat at the “table” of tenkara rod-makers. Others did not. A lot of anglers here “grew up” on these rods when it comes to their personal journeys into discovering tenkara. But there has been a bit of an elephant in the room… Most of these rod companies never looked to the Japanese for anything in creating companies that were selling a Japanese-designed product for a Japanese sport. Does this make any sense?

While some people may have taken advantage of Oni school, most of the owners of these other companies didn’t appear to seek out relationships with the creators of tenkara the sport, they didn’t travel to Japan, but, most importantly, they didn’t learn about what a tenkara rod taper was all about, and they didn’t license any tenkara mandrels from Japan. They still haven’t. The result? The result is that the consumers got the short end of the stick. Many of us never learned what tenkara was, where it really came from, or why any of that matters. Many of them still have never cast a rod that flexes like many of the most popular Japanese tenkara rods do.

As one example, Patagonia made an early impact of this type, offering not only a completely incorrect taper and action in a “Tenkara rod” but then going one step further to apparently take credit for tenkara here in the USA. Chouinard painted a picture of fixed line fishing for his fishing kit that was loosely inspired by Pesca Mosca Valsesiana and tenkara, without truly representing either style in their kit. He calls it “simple fly fishing.” It is not tenkara.

This was particularly disappointing, as Patagonia, usually working hard to truly engage locally with their marketing and environmental/business impact campaigns and to understand what they were getting involved in, didn’t do any of the necessary legwork at all. This helped to create a complete misunderstanding within the market, and helped to foster an idea that somehow, anything could be tenkara. I believe this is just one element of what created a lot of the early anti-tenkara “hate” from other fishing communities online, and is something I’d like to delve into deeper at another time in the future.

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It is clear there was no mal-intent in any of this, but the results were less than stellar on many levels, and some may argue that “damage” has been done. I’m glad to see other companies beginning to put effort into all of this, and I think it will go a long way to undoing some of the damage that may have been done early on. There’s more work to do.

But I digress, this article isn’t really a history lesson on the tenkara industry, it is meant to make people think. Furthermore, I truly love Patagonia as a company for many other reasons… I don’t bring this up to judge any company or person, or to be negative. I bring it up to paint a picture of how tenkara began to lose its way here in the USA, and how tenkara went from a style of fishing to a becoming a marketing term.

I believe that bringing this reality to attention is important, because it has the potential to be dangerous for the knowledge and the future of the sport. If we allow tenkara to simply become a marketing term to sell rods and gear, not only will we dilute the meaning of tenkara, but we will all be personally responsible for undoing decades of work that the masters such as Ishigaki-San, Sakakibara-San and countless others have worked so hard to create. Do we, the USA, want to be known for effectively destroying a well-defined niche sport with established teachers & sponsors, established methods and styles, and be happy about that? I certainly do not think so, and I believe most tenkara anglers here do not want to do that either. Do we?

What is it about? Honor. Honor is important in Japan. Honor is important everywhere. It would surely be dishonorable to have taken this wonderful sport from Japan and to then turn it into something completely different, simply because we don’t want to create new words for what we are doing now, do we? I don’t see how these shortcuts would benefit us, or the sport of tenkara here.

We have all advanced to the point where we understand why tenkara is not cane pole fishing, and how it is not simply dapping. I believe at this point, now, we have finally gotten to a point where we have learned enough to know that tenkara also is not fishing for bass or warm water species in slow and still water. There are enough Japanese anglers, facts and history to support this claim. Ishigaki-San and many others have defined tenkara – so yes, tenkara has a definition already.

As Ishigaki-San and many of the others have confirmed, tenkara means fishing for trout in bubbling brooks and raging rivers with some elevation change, using a fly, utilizing a long rod and a very light line. Tenkara is as much about casting as it is about drifting, something I used to incorrectly speak about by saying pretty much the opposite. I am just as guilty in doing damage to the definition and image of tenkara as any company or blogger or early adopter who decided to use western fly lines, floating lines or dry flies.

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Dr. Hisao Ishigaki
I didn’t mean to dilute tenkara by pitching bead heads, ultra-short lines and nymphing techniques… but I did – heck, they worked! But I now know more about how to cast correctly, how to fish a slightly longer line effectively, how to manipulate flies more effectively, as well as more about what tenkara actually is – and with this knowledge comes new understanding. What follows that for me is just a lot more good old fun while fishing, a lot more success catching the “hard to catch” fish, a more “zen” attitude on the stream, and a mission to spread this all to others.

Tenkara was defined by the most active, important anglers within the sport at that time, many of whom we know of today. They are the “masters.” The word tenkara was chosen by this group of existing, established Japanese tenkara anglers, some of those masters and their teachers, in order to help distinguish between the new western style of Kebari Tsuri (fly fishing,) and the traditional old style with a fixed line… then also called Kebari Tsuri.

Tenkara is not a broadly defined style. It is a niche that was created in order to describe something very specific – something that was evolving both alongside, and separately from, other methods of fly-fishing. So in effect, tenkara has evolved as a niche within a niche. It followed a path to that point that helped to define the techniques and the tools of the sport, and we have barely even begun to scratch the surface of all of this over here in the USA. We are lucky to be exposed to decades, if not centuries, of this knowledge from Japan; lucky to have friends in Japan to teach us the right ways, and lucky to have all found this wonderful sport.

So my question is, given these realities, do we, as a community, really want to go backwards in time and re-define tenkara as something broader that encompasses all kinds of fly-fishing? Do we really want to promote a train of thought that undoes the very ideas of why tenkara was defined in the first place? What good would it serve to be the ones who undermine the very people we are trying to learn from right now? Does this help us, and does this have a positive impact on the sport of tenkara?

Tenkara, as it is defined from Japan, is well established for these reasons – and there is a lot we have left to learn before we are ready to go off and take it to the next level ourselves. For if we cannot first fully learn and understand the myriad of techniques and knowledge that has already been accumulated, all we will be doing is throwing that out the window, by letting tenkara become a marketing term.

In Japan, they define the fishing style by the kind of fishing you do, not the rod you have. Because of that, each style of fishing has developed its own gear… carp fishing for Herabuna carp is called Herabuna fishing. There are “Hera rods” for that. Chub fishing for Hae in mountain streams is called Hae fishing. Did you know there’s a whole category of rods that are sold for this too? The Daiwa Rinfu is one of them. Ayu fishing utilizes insanely expensive and much longer rods, and you use a half of a fish as the bait. Most of us have heard of Keiryu fishing too, as Chris Stewart has largely been responsible for making people aware of this style and marketing it as its own unique thing – as well as selling the rods to us here in the US.

So I believe that it is time for us to begin to communicate more accurately about modern Japanese tenkara, to accept its definition more clearly, to think about using Japanese carp rods for carp, salmon rods for salmon, and calling each method of fishing by its own name as has already been defined. Maybe it is even time for us to be creative and to make our own names as well. There is no reason that anyone cannot use their tenkara rod to fish however they’d like and for whatever species of fish they’d like to fish for. But I do believe it is as good a time as any to begin to re-define that stuff for what it is, instead of pretending that it is all actually called tenkara.

Japanese tenkara anglers I have met and watched interviews about have always seemed to say that we in the USA will have a profound impact on tenkara, and suggested that many of the next great innovations within the sport would come from us here, not from within Japan. I am sure these innovations didn’t involve re-defining the entire sport for the sake of marketing. Do we not want to make the best impact on tenkara that we can? Can’t we still do that while also, at the same time, creating new names for the fishing we like to do with fixed line rods that doesn’t fit the definition of tenkara? I believe that we can.

I’m very much looking forward to the evolution of our fixed line fishing industry here, of Tenkara, Keiryu, and of the people involved in it. I’m looking forward to continuing this journey of knowledge among all of you, no matter what kind of fish you want to catch or what kind of line you like to use. But most importantly, I’m looking forward to doing a better job honoring those from which we took and learned this wonderful Japanese sport here in the USA.

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

The Ugly Tenkara Fly

The Ugly Tenkara Fly
By Adam Rieger

I first heard of Ishimaru Shotaro through Daniel Galhardo’s Tenkara USA blog post…

http://www.tenkarausa.com/meeting-one-of-the-old-tenkara-masters-ishimaru-shotaro/

It is a great post. One of the things that struck me was the simplicity of the fly and the “ugliness” of the fly. My tenkara mentor, Adam Klagsbrun, instilled in me the idea that trout like ugly and buggy flies… many of his favorites are Fran Better’s ties like the Ausable bomber or the Usual… both hairy buggy flies… and another of his favorites is the Ausable Ugly tied by Rich Garfield – guide extraordinaire in the Adirondacks.

So having said that my leaning, especially as a new tier and new to the sport, was for ugly and simple flies…so off to work to try and figure out how to tie the Ugly Tenkara fly!

In my search, I noticed a post by the Discover Tenkara guys Paul and John about Shotaro and the fly and voila they had already done the research and had made a very good replica so I got in contact with John Pearson to learn his thoughts on the method…

Here is what I understood him saying to do 🙂

Recipe:

Hook: Eyeless or you can use your favorite wet fly/nymph standard hook
Eye: Red silk – I used beading silk
Thread: Black sewing thread – Coats and Clark black
Hackle: Grizzly rooster hackle

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Tie in a loop of red silk to form the eye. If you would like you can coat the loop with head cement, Hard as Nails or other adhesive to stiffen the loop.
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Use the tags of the silk to form a taper in the body and wrap your thread to the bend and then back to near the loop eye. Cut any excess red silk and cover with black thread.
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Select a grizzly rooster hackle and tie in the tip of the feather so it extends up and over the eye at a 45 degree angle. Bind down the hackle to the hook shank with open wraps to the bend.
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Twist the hackle around your thread and flair out the barbules. Wrap the feather and thread “rope” up the hook shank and tie off near the eye the feather and clip excess.
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Wind thread through hackle with zig-zagging motion (to not tie down barbules) if you want to build up the body more or further secure the feather. Alternatively you can skip that and just simply whip finish at that point or when you are satisfied with the body.

The fly on first casting or when blot dried will fish in the surface film like a low riding dry or Griffith Gnat… and then quickly sink as the thread absorbs water.

I oversize the hackle and keep it sparse… I also do not use top grade hackle which I think helps the fly as the feather is less “stiff” and has more action in the water.

Could be its mystical powers but my first cast with this fly yielded a very aggressive strike from a small stream brown!

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

Choosing Kebari for Newcomers

Choosing Kebari for Newcomers
By Jim Wright

This article was inspired by previous correspondence with new customers. I help a lot of new tenkara anglers, as well as those new to fly fishing in general. The single most numerous question is, “What kebari should I choose?”

“K” writes …

“Hi, I posted this question in a forum and I haven’t gotten an answer (and I suspect why now that I am reading your website)…but I’ll ask anyway.

As a new Tenkara fisherman (and a somewhat new fly fisherman), I’ve always been told to match the hatch. Apparently that’s not necessarily the same in Tenkara, and I guess that you don’t necessarily advocate that. I’m looking for a “starter kit” of Tenkara flies but I thought I’d need to get them more regionally in order to keep them similar to the local hatches. Is not matching the hatch a hard and fast rule?”

Thanks in advance, K”

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Hi K. Thanks for your query. That is a very interesting question and I hope that I have some interesting ideas in response. I do not consider myself any kind of expert, but a student of trout. A laying on your belly in the mud kind of student. With that in mind, here goes.

A lot of folks find choosing flies a subjective topic with hundreds of different opinions, but I do not. Once you spend time studying fish behavior including stream trout, as well as “on stream sampling” and examining of aquatic creatures and understanding their role in the aqua-scape, we can clearly see the reason for the approach that I am going to suggest. While it’s true that tenkara equipment and techniques offer a big advantage for close-in (as opposed to distant) fly fishing on streams or ponds and lakes, it’s a well established fact that a few well-chosen patterns will up your game considerably. Fish see a lot of the same food items day after day, which vary among watersheds. Offering a kebari or Western pattern of a similar size and coloration of these local “commodity flies,” will prove the worth of a bit of stream-side sampling.

1. Generally speaking, when fish are feeding upon a specific size and coloration of insect, they may not find interest in anything else for the duration of what is called a hatch. A hatch is the culmination of the life-cycle of many aquatic insects, of breeding and depositing eggs for the continuation of the species. This is what you would call a “Match the Hatch” situation. I say may not find interest, because I have successfully tempted trout with flies other than the ones that are on the menu during a hatch.

Something to remember: There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing lures for fishing. There are numerous reasons why a fish might choose to take one of our patterns, and some of them are only understood by the fish. But understanding your quarry is the key to successful angling.

2. However, unless you have a very productive stream, most of the time when you go out, you will not be fishing over an insect hatch. Unless you are lucky or have kept close track of the hatch cycles on your specific stream, it might seem that you are looking at unproductive water. “Where are the fish?” In a decent stream, they will be there somewhere, you just need to know where to look.

Check out this site for more information of reading water to determine where fish might hold: http://howtoflyfish.orvis.com/video-lessons/chapter-eight-reading-water

3. So here we have another variable. Where are you fishing. In the mountains? Lowlands, ponds, giant lakes? And, when do you hit the stream? Early morning? Middle of the day or at dusk? Once we know the answer to a few questions like this, we can really zero in on your fly kit needs. Initially however, you don’t need to worry much about that. Over time, anglers have found that a few basic coloration’s and sizes which present at several depths and/or speed of current will suffice quite nicely for many occasions. Your deeper involvement in angling will likely spur your interest in a deeper examination of your quarry. Then you can begin to discover the finer details which will lead to opening the door to mastery of your favorite stream.

The short story… 3 or 4 patterns in a couple of sizes will get you by quite well.

4. So again, generally you will do fine with 4 types of flies:

  • First, a floating one (actually I prefer one that fishes sitting down in the surface film, as opposed to right on the top of the water).
  • Second, something that fishes on the bottom sometimes hitting the rocks or silt.
  • Third, a fly that imitates an insect that is either swimming up to the surface or diving to the bottom during hatching and egg laying behavior. Or more often, just being carried along with the current.
  • And finally, a larger fly that imitates a bait-fish, worm, sculpin or large insect.

Now if you wish to simplify even further, in my humble opinion you can easily get along just fine with one type of fly. One that does most of the work in 3, above. And that fly type is a traditional Japanese style sakasa kebari (subsurface soft hackle pattern).

Because most larger fish will be found most of the time near bottom, actively pursuing dinner or hiding under obstacles, I prefer a heavy quick sinking kebari most of the time. On a heavy, size #12 Klinkhammer hook, I would give it a wool body. This combination provides a better to sink rate when soaking wet. A hackle, preferably from the body or neck feathers of a game bird like a partridge or pheasant. Or, a grizzly domestic hen chicken. And finally, for the pièce de résistance, a Peacock herl collar right behind the hackle. And please… use barb-less hooks!

With this fly in 4 colors; let’s say a Black, Medium Brown, Olive and a Yellow or Cream and making it even more versatile by adding a second size, a number 16, I could fish these flies very effectively by varying my technique of presentation. In the surface film by applying a floatant, as a hatching insect or an insect being washed down stream, or as a tiny minnow trying to escape the jaws of death. I could fish it upstream, down, in fast water, or I could even fish it as a nymph in deeper water.

Why can we get along with just a few patterns? The fact is that most fish are largely opportunists and don’t routinely limit themselves to just one food source. Unless that food source is so abundant that they loose interest in almost anything else (except of course by a big ‘ol killer bugger fished at the right depth… as they say, killer!).

Also understand that fish that live in still water, or low and clear water require a whole different approach (and skill) than those in faster water. The later have little time to examine their breakfast than does the slow pool dweller. The slow water trout have plenty of time to shut the door in your face, while the fast water swimmer only has seconds while braving the full, energy robbing force of the main current lane.

Now you can go either specific with your fly colors and sizes, or more general. However, if you are new to this, I would go with a mixed selection of my cheap-but-good imported flies, since you are going to loose them while you learn, by throwing them into trees and brush piles, but you are also going to catch fish in those environments. If you find that you like the multipurpose rooster hackle style flies, like the Dr. Ishigaki types, or instead prefer the soft hackles, you can then be more selective in your choices.

The final, most important piece of information that I can give you, is to plan on fishing for Bass or Sunfish in a pond or lake in advance of your trip. Then when you head for the mountain trout, you will have some tactical experience under your belt.

I hope that this information helps you. Feel free to write back with any more questions. All the best to you, Jim

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

Gila Trout Swim Mineral Creek

Gila Trout Swim Mineral Creek
Devastating fire cleared path for rare trout’s return
By Craig Springer, USFWS

Wear and tear on boot soles and a helicopter—that’s what it took to get 1,033 Gila trout safely placed in the remote headwaters of Mineral Creek, well inside the Gila National Forest of southwestern New Mexico.

On November 18, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) working with its partner agencies, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S. Forest Service, released two age classes of Gila trout into Mineral Creek ranging up to a foot long. The rare yellow trout were spawned, hatched and raised in captivity in 2015 and 2016 at the Service’s Mora National Fish Hatchery. Hatchery fish are carefully paired and spawned to maximize genetic diversity of offspring which provides a safeguard for their survival in the wild. The captive fish also purposely face rigorous swimming conditions in the hatchery to further ensure their fitness when released.

These 1,033 trout traveled by truck eight hours to meet a helicopter at the Gila National Forest’s Glenwood Ranger Station. The aircraft made multiple flights carrying an aerated tank at the end of a long-line, each time full of Gila trout. Biologists from the three agencies had hiked in several miles in the rugged country to meet the trout and place them in the cool, shaded runs and pools of Mineral Creek.

Gila trout arrive at the treetops over Mineral Creek Gila Natl Forest in areate helitank photo Craig Springer USFWS resized
Gila trout arrive at the treetops over Mineral Creek Gila Natl Forest in areated helitank

Mineral Creek is tributary to the San Francisco River near Alma, New Mexico. Streams in this watershed harbor one of five known relict genetic lineages of Gila trout. The species lives only in New Mexico and Arizona along the Mogollon Rim, an area of conservation emphasis for the Service. This release is a large step forward in conserving Gila trout, noted Andy Dean, lead Gila trout biologist with the Service’s New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, based in Albuquerque.

“This repatriation into Mineral Creek adds another stream to harbor Gila trout, as outlined as a necessity in the Gila Trout Recovery Plan,” said Dean. “Not only does this add a population within the San Francisco River drainage, it also helps establish Gila trout populations across a larger geographical area. More Gila trout over a larger area adds greater security to this rare fish.”

That desired security will be achieved when the Mineral Creek population is naturally reproducing, and multiple year classes swim its waters, perhaps in 2018.

Mineral Creek came to the attention of biologists as a candidate stream to receive Gila trout following the massive Whitewater-Baldy Fire of 2012. Destructive as it was, the forest fire made Mineral Creek suitable for Gila trout. The fire burned in the headlands of the stream and summer rains washed a slurry of ash and debris down its course, removing unwanted competing non-native fishes. Though the mountain slopes and stream-side vegetation are not fully stabilized post-fire, sufficient habitat exists to harbor Gila trout in Mineral Creek. With so few suitable streams available to repatriate Gila trout, biologists seized the opportunity.

Mineral Creek Canyon is steep to be sure. It’s certainly among the more remote and more difficult Gila trout habitats to reach, but it’s not the only stream to receive Gila trout from Mora National Fish Hatchery this autumn. Another 8,621 Gila trout have been placed in several other waters that advance the species’ recovery and should entice anglers to go after native trout in native habitats of southwest New Mexico.

Willow Creek received 3,039 Gila trout; Gilita Creek, 1,022; Sapillo Creek, 2,270; and West Fork Gila River, 2,290. These waters are readily accessible and won’t require shedding lots of boot tread to reach them as is the case with Mineral Creek. These trout—shards of sunshine—lie in dark water behind boulders and in the scour pools beneath log jams, waiting for bugs to come drifting by. They also wait for what anglers may throw their way. Anglers should visit the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish website to learn more about fishing regulations, which requires a free Gila trout permit.

The Gila trout is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The species was listed as endangered in 1973, and through conservation measures it was down-listed to threatened in 2006. A year later select Gila trout populations were opened to angling for the first time in 50 years.

To learn more visit www.fws.gov/southwest

Gila trout stocked in Mineral Creek Gila National Forest photo Craig Springer USFWS resized

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

The 2016 Tenkara Jam

The 2016 Tenkara Jam
By Stephen Myers

What do you get when you combine some of the most progressive individuals in fly fishing with hot food, cold beer, and the best wild trout streams in North Carolina?

Welcome to the 2016 Tenkara JAM!

The “Tenkara Jam” is an annual event hosted by the Appalachian Tenkara Anglers, a group of over 1400 tenkara fisherman that organize and mobilize via Facebook for one mass gathering every year, led by the group’s founder and spokesperson, Jason Sparks.

This year’s JAM, the 3rd annual, was held in Cherokee, North Carolina and surrounding waters. I’m proud to say that we had over 170 attendees, six rod builders, and 11 gear vendors attend this year’s show, drawing members from as far as Nova Scotia, California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Indiana, Florida, and more. The event featured a “jam” packed lecture series on topics like tenkara 101, focused fishing, minimizing frustrations on the stream, and even how to practice proper catch and release principles. Intertwined between speakers were a fly swap, rod demo’s, how to’s, gear showcases, mingling, and of course shopping from walls lined with the newest products from industry leaders.

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The event ran from 8:00am to 5:00pm on Saturday and 8:00am to 2:00pm on Sunday, serving lunch daily, and still leaving enough time to explore local waters such as the Oconaluftee River, Bradley Fork, Ravens Fork, and many other streams on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

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It seems like it’s said every year, but this year’s JAM will really be the benchmark of excellence to model future events from. Big camp fires, late nights, new friends, and early mornings on the water set the stage for a terrific weekend. I can’t imagine being part of something that brings me more joy than this group of folks. While on the ride home back to Florida, I can’t help but to have even higher hopes for next year’s JAM, all the while feeling like this weekend passed by in the blink of an eye. This year’s JAM was a truly unique experience that I won’t soon forget.

Members were asked to share a few thoughts on this year’s JAM. Here’s what they said:

“My favorite moment was meeting so many nice people and watching a tiny trout leap out of the water across the river.”
– Ben Giacchino

“I liked learning to tie flies and meeting all of the tenkara celebrities.”
– Hugh Hill

“I liked the lack of stuff. I have gone to so many fly fishing shows and been overwhelmed by the gear. I love the simplicity of tenkara.”
– Kenny Brower

“The seminars were very interesting. I always learn something.”
– Dani Long

“Hands down, my favorite thing was the community. Tenkara would not be what it is without the people.”
– Joe Deppe

“I really enjoyed meeting with folks. It was great to see old friends and meet new ones.”
– Anthony Naples, Three Rivers Tenkara

“My favorite moment was getting my first tenkara rod, then bringing some nice brown trout to hand 30 minutes later.”
– William Yowell

If you’re interested in learning more about tenkara, we would love to have you join us as future Appalachian Tenkara Angler events, and on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/appalachiantenkaraanglers

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

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.

The Winter 2016-17 Issue of Tenkara Angler Is Live!

I’m pleased to announce the Winter 2016-17 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine has hit the virtual newsstands!

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I’m not 100% sure, but I think this is the largest group of contributors to date. Twenty-four different submissions in all, with a great mix of new names, and usual suspects.

Being a winter issue, there’s a really nice mix of content to keep your fishing juices flowing, even if it’s frozen outside. Fly tying recipes, tips to stay warm on-stream in the winter months, tactics to chase salmon and smallmouth, destination travel, an interview, a discussion on honoring the definition of tenkara, a hat shopping adventure, as well as thoughtful essays and playful art. Oh, and at least one typo I found, but *exhale* that’s okay. 🙂

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The Winter 2016-17 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine can be found for free online consumption via Issuu HERE, or for those of you that prefer something in-hand, for physical purchase HERE.

Happy Holidays!