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.

Winter fish, however, eluded me for a long time.  Summer fish are easy, you can use a dry line and swing a fly right on or under the surface and the fish are a bit more inclined to move to the fly.  In the winter though it is all about sink tips and getting a deep, slow drift to entice a fish that really isn’t likely to move far to grab the fly.  I finally got my first in 2013 on the Skagit, a beautiful wild hen of about 12 lbs.  After that though nada, despite hitting our local rivers at least a handful of days each winter.

This past year I spent a lot of time swinging flies on my tenkara rod and found it to be the most effective way to cover water and in many situations, hook fish.   With tenkara I was really able to feel everything and learn how to control the drift, be it near the surface or deeper with a BH kebari in the late season.   This winter I have been out on the Snoqualmie only three times in between bouts of high water.  There I use a 14′ 9-weight spey rod but for the first time I really feel like I’ve got my swing under control.  In those three outings I’ve landed one 14 lbs. hen, had another soft grab that I messed up on and had another freight train hit that I have no idea how I didn’t get the hook set properly, I let my loop out, felt the head shake then nothing.   This is by far the best winter steelhead season I’ve had already and there is still time left to fish.   So, is it tenkara?  I think it has something to do with it. Tenkara has helped me fish with more confidence in my presentation and it is obviously working for me with these winter fish.