Category Archives: Techinque

Did tenkara make me a better steelheader?

Snoqualmie winter hen

Snoqualmie winter hen

I’ve been steelhead fishing for most of the time I lived in the PNW but it took me a LONG time to catch that first steelhead on the fly and then I “cheated” by getting it on a nymph on the Deschutes.  In fact, I got 4 steelhead one afternoon from the same run nymphing which is crazy.  After I got that out of my system I went to only swinging flies on spey and switch rods and I’ve never gone back.   I used to get out a lot when our local rive still had a summer run and would get 2-3 summer fish per season there along with usually getting fish on the Deschutes whenever I went and often summer fish on the Methow or Wenatchee once these opened.

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My One Fly season

A box full of my one fly.

A box full of my one fly.

This season I decided to go the One Fly route and see what I could  learn from it.   I decided to stick with me GRHE Sakasa Kebari as my only fly for the year and tied them in #12-#16 in both standard and beaded versions.    A month in was my last update and I was pretty happy with the decision at that time.    Now after 3 plus months with 78 river days I have to say I am very happy with my decision to stick with one pattern all year.   I don’t think the season is quite over but getting pretty close as the rivers are set to rise next week due to the rains that will hit here in the PNW.

 

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Swing time

Swinging with the Sato

Swinging with the Sato

The days are growing shorter and the temperatures are starting to cool here in the Northwest.  About this time of year I’m usually spending my mornings fishing for steelhead but, alas, there are no more summer runs in the river that flows through town so that will have to wait until the Columbia tributaries open up and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be healthy enough for a few days of steelheading.

Until then, I’m spending my days fishing the swing for trout with my tenkara rod.  Earlier in the season I was swinging some and was having a rough time of it, I kept missing fish.  I realized the errors of my ways one day, I was fishing the swing like I would for steelhead.  Rod pointed straight at the line as it swung across.  Big difference, with my switch or spey rods I hold a loop of line in my right hand that I let slide when I feel a grab so the fish can turn and hook themselves, with tenkara there is no line to hold so the fish were pulling on an already tight setup thus reducing my hookups.

Something has to give so that the fish can turn so I started playing with rod angles.   By holding the tip up high and leading the fly ever so slightly on the swing the fish can grab the fly and pull on the rod tip to turn and get the hook set in their jaw perfectly.   Otherwise, I’m fishing pretty much like I would for steelhead.  I start at the top of a run, cast across stream, mend if needed and then slightly lead the fly across the current.   I only take 1 step down on most of the smaller trout runs and repeat.   I alternate between a dead swing and pulsing to try and figure out what the fish seem to want on any given day and in a great looking spot, like around a big rock, I’ll often do two or three swings and try a combination of straight swing and pulsing the fly a bit.  Sometimes a fish will ignore the one and grab the other.   If I get a follow I’ll back up a few inches and try again, often the fish will grab the next time through.

I’m hoping all my tenkara swinging will make me a better steelheader when I can get back out on the water with my switch rod.

A month of One Fly

GRHE Sakasa Kebari collection - #12, 14, 16

GRHE Sakasa Kebari collection – #12, 14, 16

On June 23 when the waters finally dropped to near normal summer flows I started fishing my GRHE Sakasa Kebari and haven’t changed flies since that day.  It took a few weeks to decide to just stick with one pattern all year but I finally made the commitment to it and have stuck with it for a month now.   This is prime time for fishing in the PNW so I’ve managed to get out 20 out of those 30 days even though I can only fish for about 45-60 minutes on any day.  That means I’ve gotten to put this one fly in front of a lot of fish on four different rivers so  far.

What have I learned.  First, fish will eat this fly.  I haven’t been skunked yet in any of these 20 outings using the GRHE Kebari.  Second, size can matter.  A few days ago I started with my usual #12 on the Middle Fork and had several fish come up to the fly and then reject it.  There were some bugs coming off the water, luckily tan ones, and they were a bit smaller so I finally cut it off and put on a #14.  Wham!  Fish on!    Third, presentation does matter.  I’ve fished up through a run drifting the fly and having no grabs at all.  At the top of the run I’ll turn around and swing the fly through and wham!  Fish on!   Mixing up the presentation can make all the difference in the world, probably more important than size.   Fourth, fly tying becomes very easy.  I know exactly what fly to tie and I just do some different sizes of it.  Right now I’m using #12-16 and haven’t resorted to a BH version but may have to when the waters cool in the later fall.

I haven’t encountered a real hatch yet where trout are keyed on one insect on top, that would be the real test.  There was a group of fish rising on the South Fork one day and by lifting the #14 GRHE I was able to induce them to grab the fly so the presentation seemed to work.  I have yet to get a fish to rise to the fly on the surface though but I’m sure it will happen soon.  We are getting hammered with storms today and the Raging in my yard has gone up by 50% already in just a few hours so it may be a few days for the rivers to drop before I get to continue on my one fly quest for the season.  Unlike Paul Puckett’s One Fly experience I don’t consider mine to be a bad decision, so far it is working out well for me.

 

The Ju and the Go

The Go (left) and Ju (right)

The Go (left) and Ju (right)

A few weeks ago I read a blog post on Discover Tenkara which had a video of Dr. Ishigaki showing entitled “Soft Ju and hard Go for tenkara“.   I found this technique interesting, switching the grip between a standard forefinger on top, the hard gō, and a light thumb and last two finger grip for the soft jū.   Before reading this I always kept the forefinger gō grip when casting and when drifting or adding action to the kebari.   Switching to the softer jū grip after the cast is simple and does indeed give a softer feel to the lifts and drops of the rod when actively working the kebari in the current.

A few days ago I was on the river and there were some sporadic October Caddis coming off the water.   I had on a fairly large GRHE Sakasa Kebari in #12 and used the jū grip while activating the kebari as it swung across the current.   Big trout (well, big for this river) couldn’t resist.  I had several fish hit the kebari 3-4x before finally hooking up, they were just drawn to the fly and the way it was behaving just like the emerging caddis.   This is definitely a technique I will start next season with.

Going Small

What I normally fish and what I had to fish today

What I normally fish and what I had to fish today

Today I took a friend out to a spot that a few weeks ago had quite a few trout and quite a bit more water than it did today.   We hit a couple of runs and had a few fish on but for the most part I was seeing fish flashing at my kebari but not really taking it.   I decided to switch to the smallest thing I had in my box, a #16 Takayama Sakasa Kebari that I bought when I originally got my tenkara gear but never used since my usual #12 and #14 kebari always caught fish.

Almost instantly I had a fish actually grab the small fly though it came off on a jump.  We moved up to the next run and I was catching fish pretty quickly with the tiny fly.   My friend had been getting some tugs on a #14 but not hooking up and switched to the #16 and hooked up.

Looking at the situation everything pointed to the small fly.  The water was lower than normal, the fish seemed a bit smaller than the ones I was getting in the same area a few weeks ago (one fish I landed may have been the smallest trout I’ve ever landed on a fly) and there were a hatch of small midges going on and fish were rising to them.

After getting home I tied up another half dozen of the small flies so I’m ready next time.   This was the first time I’ve had to veer away from the two flies I’ve been fishing all season long and stick on something different in order to catch fish.   I guess my two flies have increased to three flies, still not bad compared to the dozens of patterns I had in my Western fly box.

Fishing a Long Line

Swinging kebari on a long line

Swinging kebari on a long line

A few days ago I went out to check a local steelhead river and hit the upper part of my favorite run with my 11’6″ switch rod and a pretty small steelhead fly since the water was so low.   About three steps down the run I hooked into a fish which turned out to be a nice 14″ rainbow instead of a steelhead but hey, I hadn’t got skunked.   I had a few more trouty grabs on the way through the run so went back to the car, dumped the switch rod and grabbed my 13′ 6″ Amago.  I only had my 13′ line with me but I waded out a bit further and worked the run with a kebari and managed to get 2 trout and had about 5 hits, better than with the switch rod.

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Fishing in Bathtubs

OK, not really fishing in a bathtub but fishing bathtub sized pools in rivers.  After taking up Tenkara this year I began searching out smaller waters and smaller sections of bigger waters looking for trout and have been pleasantly surprised by what I have found.

Today was a great example.  I was on the Middle Fork and the really nice corner run I wanted to fish was just so windy that I couldn’t control my line well with the wind blowing straight upstream on me.  I managed a few fish but was getting frustrated so I moved downstream to check out the next spot where a long riffle ended and dropped into a pool.  What I found was that the riffle did drop well but on my side the current was pushing into the bank and got deep fast so I really needed to fish from the other side to fish it well but didn’t want to cross into someones back yard to fish.  Looking at the shore from where I was in the riffle I found a spot about the size of a bathtub that had some good rocks and depth, I figured there was probably one fish there.  A few casts and I had a grab but missed.  Next cast another grab and I was into what turned out to be my biggest Middle Fork cutthroat of the year so far, a nice 14″ fish.  I sort of figured he was king of the little pool but made a few more casts.  Wham, another grab and another nice 11-12″ cutt to hand.   A few more casts, wham, another fish.  What the heck.  By the time I was done I had landed four, lost two and missed another two in this little run.

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