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Would you like to hear a story of how the Tenkara USA Satoki came to be?
Well then… get a drink, sit back, and let’s chat a bit about the origins of one of Tenkara USA’s newest rods and how it came to be.
About 4 years ago, while Daniel and I were driving through Denver, Colorado, after just wrapping up another successful outdoor trade show, we started to chat about what we would like to see in our next rod. It was at that time that Daniel put this baby into my lap and said, if you have some ideas, work with the rest of the team and see if we can come up with a new rod.
As with any new project, since I started this discussion, I already had some ideas in my head, and I let him know some of my ideas for the new rod. He liked what I had to say and put it into my and our Tenkara USA team’s laps to get the ball rolling.
Now you see, to date, Daniel has been the chief architect behind all of the Tenkara USA Rods, from design to final product. We had some input and testing as a team, but the ideas were mostly his with some input from the team. This time would be different, though… the team would design it, and although Daniel would be there for support, we would be doing most of the communicating with our manufacturers to get the job done.
The idea I pitched to Daniel during that drive through Denver was a larger Sato, one of Tenkara USA’s best-selling rods. We had the Rhodo, a great small creek and stream 3-length Zoom rod, and the Sato, a great 3-length rod with all longer lengths than the Rhodo for more medium to larger waters. The two made a great 1…2 punch! So my idea of a next size up for medium to larger waters was the idea I had. That day many years ago, Satoki was born.
The name Satoki came to mind by mixing the Sato with Oki, with Oki meaning big in Japanese. Big Sato! Back then, the 3 lengths that came to mind were roughly a 12’, 13’, to 14’ rod, 3.5 ounces or less, with a closed length shorter than the Sato was. A nice mid-flex action was the goal, and adding some nice graphic flare to the rod was important. I must say, the Satoki is one pretty rod. On this rod, we opted for a foam handle, and I must say, the rod as a whole is quite stunning!
With any new rod, the idea starts off the process, and then the whole team comes into the mix to help design it, offer their own ideas, make drawings, work with our manufacturers to create samples, we test, fine-tune, and eventually come out with a final product in the end.
The whole process is quite fun, actually, from getting the whole team involved to the whole team testing the samples. Once we all had a sample run that we all liked, some serious on-stream testing ensued. If our Tenkara USA name is going to land on a product, we want to make sure it is the best it can be, so the Satoki was no different. Lots of testing along the way, and we even showed samples to some close ambassadors of ours whom we tested the rod with towards the end, making sure many hands had access to really test this rod.
I must admit, before we introduced the Satoki at the end of 2022, around the holiday season, I had some butterflies in my stomach. Not that I did not think the Satoki was a great rod, but by this time, it had been many years since Tenkara USA introduced a new rod, and indeed this new rod was a whole team effort, and for all of us involved, the 1st tenkara rod we all created.
The good news is that the Satoki was very well received and blew away any butterflies within days of happy customers receiving the rods and offering their own notes about their experience with this new rod from Tenkara USA.
The truth is Tenkara USA does not come out with new rods all the time as we feel it is important that a new rod offer something the others may not, or for some, refining the process over many years of making rods makes a new offering even better. We don’t just slap a new color or graphic on a rod just to have something new to offer, as we feel this would be a disservice. At times it may seem Tenkara USA has not made a new rod for quite some time, but for us, it makes sense to offer the best tenkara rods we can and to truly offer something new for folks to enjoy for many years.
I must say, I am very proud of my little part in creating and getting the Tenkara USA Satoki to market. Our whole team worked their tails off to make this rod happen. This whole process and seeing how happy folks are using their Satoki did light a fire under our bottoms to make a 2nd new rod, and as of this writing, our newest rod, the Ukiyo, just hit the market in December 2023.
At a later time, we shall talk about the Ukiyo, but for today, we hope those who own a Satoki have many great years fishing the rod. If you don’t own a Satoki yet, check them out at the Tenkara USA website.
May the Satoki bring you many smiles along the way!
I’ll be honest: I don’t usually plan on fly fishing in Montana in February. Maybe 15-20 years ago, but I can be a real homebody in winter.
This year has been a bit different. It’s been much warmer than usual, and many enjoyable days have been outside. Couple this with social media posts from friends in the area getting out and catching fish (on dry flies even), and I decided to head to the Madison River below Bear Trap Canyon.
In the Bozeman area, we refer to this stretch as the “Lower” Madison, but the folks in West Yellowstone use that moniker for anything below Hebgen Lake. It’s a vast and open stretch of the river and not the kind of water one might immediately associate with tenkara. The holding water is not as clearly defined as in a pocket water environment, but the fish remain. I did consider taking a Western rod, but I just wanted to grab my essential tenkara gear and go.
When I got to the Madison and hopped out of my Jeep to look at the water, a few fish rose sporadically. This was in line with the reports from my friends, and I was excited to be able to target visible fish. That always helps my confidence, and it’s just plain more fun, whether you’re fishing a dry fly on the surface or a sakasa fly just under. I’ve done very well with our Takayama kebari in this situation before.
Unfortunately, not long after I spotted those feeding fish, the wind started to kick up. It wasn’t horrible by lower Madison standards, but it did put enough chop on the water that the fish went down. I checked out a couple more spots to see if I could find a nook or cranny of protected water where the fish would still rise, but no luck. If I were going to catch fish, I would have to search the subsurface. This was technically my first trip of the year, and it was February, so I’d take what I could get.
I grabbed my Satoki rod, which has become my go-to for big water fishing with a chance of chubby fish. It’s also my favorite when I may be throwing a bit more than an unweighted wet fly. Usually, if fish aren’t on the surface this time of year, they’re on the bottom, and it’s more effective to hit them on the nose with something than ask them to move up in the water column. This meant fishing a weighted fly down deep. It’s not my favorite tactic, but I really wanted to catch my first fish of the year. I rigged up with a 13′ level line and a bead head nymph, and I attached a strike indicator as the wind would make fishing with a high rod tip difficult. I also used a bit more tippet to make it easier for the fly to sink deeply, about 5 feet of 4x tippet. I will sometimes use a tiny split shot, but a bead head will often get the fly down far enough, thanks to the excellent line control of a long tenkara rod.
On big, flat water like the Lower Madison, the holding lies aren’t usually as easy to spot as a big pool behind a rock in a mountain stream. We look for “buckets,” usually depressions in the stream that create current breaks for the fish to hold in. These buckets typically look like a dark patch of water where the surface current slows if you look closely. It’s hard to capture them in photography, especially for me, but once you see a couple, they get easier to spot. The trick to fishing them is to make your cast upstream into the shallower water above the bucket. The current will usually grab the fly and pull it down into the deep part of the bucket without using much weight. It’s the same idea as the plunging technique in more traditional tenkara.
The first bucket I waded out to was one I hadn’t fished. I made my first cast just above the darker water and let my fly drift through, then a little farther into it, trying to visualize covering the bottom of the hole thoroughly. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. I was “cheating” and still not catching anything. I decided to try another Lower Madison standard, a small lightning bug. After a few casts, my indicator wiggled in an “un-caused by the bottom” like way, and I raised up on the rod tip. I was tight to a small brown who put up an excellent fight on the Satoki, but I quickly had him close and the tippet in hand. At this point, the fish popped off the barbless hook. I kind of wanted a picture of my first fish of the year, but the water was still pretty cold, so I was okay with the fish getting off without any handling. After that, the bucket turned off. I’m not sure if it was me, the fly, the fish, or the fish gods, but there weren’t any more takers on to another bucket.
I decided to head to an area my friend Bob had recommended. Bob is semi-retired (he builds beautiful bamboo western fly rods), fishes more than anyone I know, and is an excellent fisherman. I don’t take his recommendations lightly. But the area in question was past some islands we like to fish and was very open water. It looks more like water for a Spey rod, but a bucket is a bucket. So long as I could get close enough, I knew my trusty Satoki would allow some great drifts.
I waded out into the open water. Rather than one bucket, there’s more of a chain of them in this stretch. It’s fun to work through them, and usually, one will be more productive than the others, although which one can change with the day. A few casts into the fist bucket, and my indicator showed a take. I lifted the rod and felt a fish. It was a great fight, but when I got it close to the surface, I saw that the fish was foul-hooked. This may be my most minor favorite aspect of indicator nymph fishing. There is no other method where I see more fish come in fouled. I always fish barbless, which makes for less harm on the fish (and less on me when a gust of wind drives a weighted nymph into my neck), but I still hate it. Luckily, I got the fish to hand quickly, and the fly popped right out of the fish’s back with minimal damage.
I got no more strikes from that spot, so I moved up a bit. Still no takers, I tried another winter favorite on the Madison, a Crimson Annelid with a metallic thorax. A few people call it a beadhead San Juan Worm. It’s not pretty, but fish eat worms. It’s not my fault. Not long after the change, another fish was on. It was a little rainbow, fair hooked, and quickly released. After removing it, I noticed the sun was going behind the mountains, and it was getting colder out, especially on my wet hands. A front was also rolling in, but I wasn’t ready to quit yet. A few more casts, and I was into a fat rainbow. It even gave me a few jumps, which I wasn’t expecting in the cold water. It wasn’t a giant fish, but a very healthy one. Besides the jumps, it was using the room in the open water to run and doing a great job of using the current against me. I was glad to have the extra backbone provided by the Satoki and very happy to bring it to hand. I got a quick picture with my phone before releasing the fish. I had felt rusty all day, and taking photos was no exception, but it was nice to have a picture of my first nice rainbow of the year to look at when the weather turned cold again.
The wind continued to pick up, and the temperature dropped more. I felt guilty about leaving; it seemed like I just got there, but when I looked at my phone, I realized I’d been out for about three hours. That’s three hours more fishing than most February’s for me. I waded out of the river and leaned against my Jeep to watch the river. Perhaps the wind would die down, and the fish would start rising. Once I was satisfied that wouldn’t happen, I de-wadered and headed home. It wasn’t exactly fast fishing, but it was a charming day for this time of year, and I’m glad my tenkara gear wasn’t too buried for me to make a quick trip to the river. I hope there are a few more before Spring. Who knows, maybe I’ll become a die-hard winter fisherman again.
Fall is a beautiful time of year in the northern Rockies, but for me, it’s always been a little overrated in terms of fishing. Yes, it can be a great time to target big browns and colorful brook trout, and it’s just an incredibly beautiful time of the year to be outdoors here. The downside is that the prettiest, bright, sunny days have produced challenging fishing for me. Sunday, Mary and I were faced with one of those gorgeous days when we really wanted to get out and enjoy some of the last bluebird weather before the snow fell but didn’t want to drive too far. We decided to head to our favorite local creek and enjoy the day regardless of the quality of the fishing.
The Joy of Fishing in Serene Settings
It was truly gorgeous out. The sun was shining, and the temperature was perfect. We just needed the fish to bite. Our first stop was in a long meadow run of the creek. This stretch had been very productive for us in the past and was always pleasant to fish. Very few trees to snag your flies on the backcast and some nice, well-defined pools.
Our Tenkara Fishing Setup
We decided to fish the Sato with a 12-foot 3.5-level line. Attached to that were about 4 feet of 5x tippet and an Ishigaki-style kebari. That’s our normal setup for this creek. Our first casts were ignored. Finally, we reached the top of a pool, and Mary had a strike. A few casts later, a small fish came to hand.
Adapting to the Presence of Other Anglers
As we started to head up the creek, we realized that two other anglers were upstream of us. Rather than crowd them, we decided to head to a different stretch of the creek. It has plenty of access and plenty of options.
As we drove further up the canyon, we saw that probably our most productive stretch was open. We were surprised to see this on such a lovely weekend day (it’s not just our favorite spot), but we were quick to take advantage. The best pools through this stretch are a bit of a walk downstream from the parking spot, so we headed down. We often like to do this: walk down the stream and then fish our way back to the access point. This is a great strategy so long as you can move downstream without spooking fish.
The Strategy of “One-Rodding”
We finally stopped at the bottom pool in the chain. Rather than both of us trying to fish at the same time, Mary and I often take turns fishing. My friend Fran refers to this as “one-rodding” it. It’s usually easier for us than trying to leapfrog each other all day without spooking the other person’s water. Mary was up first and started to cast her fly into the edges and then the heart of the pool. It’s great-looking water and shady, which should have been in our favor as it was pretty bright out. Unfortunately, no fish were interested in the barely sunk wet fly. We decided to try a black Copper John. It’s a great generic weighted nymph if you want to get relatively deep without adding extra weight. A few casts later, we did catch a small fish on it, but the fishing was pretty slow.
Observing and Adapting to Fish Behavior
We moved up to the next pool and actually saw a nice fish holding in the middle of the stream. Mary made some casts to it. That fish didn’t eat, but another we didn’t see took the fly about a foot away from it. It wasn’t as big as the fish we were casting, but it was a nice rainbow.
Of course, catching that fish spooked the one we’d been watching, and no other fish decided to bite, so we walked up to the next pool. This pool is more shallow, so the weighted fly didn’t seem to be needed. We went back to our preferred kebari, and I took my turn to cast. I was a little worried the bite would stay slow. There were quite a few active insects on the water, but no fish rose. That’s an oddity on this stream. Normally, if there’s anything to eat, the fish jump on it. Luckily, a smaller fish did eat my fly, so Mary was back up to bat. A few casts later, she had another rainbow nicer than the one she landed earlier and probably a little bigger than the one we had seen in the previous pool.
Exploring Different Fishing Techniques
This seemed to be the end of our action in the chain of pools we liked so well. We decided to walk back to the car, but Mary wanted to fish some flats on the way out. I’ve caught fish out of them before, but not many, and I wasn’t super excited to fish them. Mary suggested that the light on the water there might have the fish more active, contrary to what I normally think about bright days in the fall. It turns out she was right. It was my turn, and a few casts later, I was rewarded with a plump brook trout, which is my favorite small stream fish to catch this time of year. Mary bought me a new camera for my birthday in August that’s rated to take pictures underwater, so I decided to play with it. Underwater fish pictures rarely come out well for me unless there’s a fair amount of light on the water, which there was. I was happy with this image, even if it did come out a little shadowy.
Unexpected Success in Bright Daylight
Shortly after releasing that fish, another small brook trout ate Mary’s fly. You can go on several trips on this stretch of water without catching a brook trout, but they get more aggressive in the fall and tend to pick up like this. We do try to avoid fish we see actively spawning on a bed.
On my next turn, I got lucky. Another nice brookie ate, and the light had improved, so I took some more underwater pics quickly. There’s always a lot of luck in getting these to turn out (at least for me), but I couldn’t be happier with this one.
Concluding the Day’s Adventure
After all the char, We landed a small rainbow but eventually fished our way through the good holding water. We were happy with the day, but I really wanted to drive further upstream to where the creek is much smaller and brushier to try out a new prototype rod we’ve been working on at Tenkara USA.
As we drove up, the paved road turned to a muddy forest service road, and we started to see more patches of snow on the ground. This was the first snow we’d seen this year. We live at a much lower elevation, and none had fallen down there yet. This stream stretch had not been productive for me this year. In fact, it seems to have not fished as well in the last couple of years as it has previously. Still, it’s always been pretty water and was perfect for testing out the new super compact rod we’ve been working on.
The road seemed to be getting worse, so when an old favorite spot was available, we parked and walked into the stream. The first little pool looked good, and it was Mary’s turn to fish. The new little rod we were using was perfect for this water. We used the same 12-foot line setup we had with the Sato, and even though the line was about two feet longer than this rod, it was easy to adjust to the shorter rod.
After a few casts, Mary landed a small brook trout. I also got a small brookie out of the same pool and enjoyed how sensitive the new swelled graphite grip on the new rod was, even when playing with small fish. After that, I was really more interested in taking pictures, so I let Mary handle the fishing. Up to that point, we were happy to get a couple of fish out of the same small pool, but the fishing wasn’t exactly fast. Then something happened. The sun finally went down below the trees, and it seemed like Mary was getting strikes on every cast. Several larger and more colorful brook trout came to hand. We had a similar instance last fall on a creek that had been much tougher fishing than this one. The fishing went into cheat mode as soon as the sun went behind the trees. Fish like these made the extra drive to the upper end of the creek worth it.
After several fish, things eventually slowed down. We almost left then as it seemed greedy to keep going, but I really wanted to look up the next bend to see what was up. Very quickly, we found fish in much shallower water than were obviously actively spawning. We watched them for a while and decided to leave them alone. It’s very possible that the fish we’d just caught were doing the same, but they were holding in different water, and the fact they started to feed more heavily when the light changed makes me think they were more in pre-spawn feeding mode than spawning mode, but I’m really not sure. We were both hungry and knew our cat Merlin was, too, so we decided to call it a day. A perfect fall day of tenkara fishing on a mountain stream in Montana.
September Fishing in the Rockies: A Tenkara Guide to Master Clear Streams
September presents a unique fishing landscape in the Rockies. With summer’s heat transitioning to fall’s first frost, the waters turn low and crystalline, unveiling challenges for anglers. The fish, having experienced a full summer of anglers’ pursuits, have become more cautious. Yet, with the right approach and tenkara gear, September fishing can be immensely rewarding.
On radiant September days, fishing can prove difficult. Fish are extra vigilant and can spot flies and tippets more easily in the translucent waters. Such conditions necessitate tactical strategies:
- Time Your Fishing – Early mornings or late afternoons, before the sun dominates the waters, can be optimal. Mid-day fishing? Look for streams shaded by dense foliage or other natural covers.
- Casting Mastery – A subtle casting approach is crucial. Ensure the fly lands far from the casting lines, minimizing chances of spooking the fish.
Preferred Tenkara Gear for September Fishing:
- For Small Streams: The Rhodo rod stands out with its gentle action, making it ideal for light casts.
- For Larger Rivers: The Ito rod offers extended reach while maintaining a light action, protecting those delicate tippets typical of this season.
3.5 level lines, especially when long, keep you at a safer distance from the fish. September demands finesse in casting. While longer 5x tippets of around 4 feet are my go-to, some seasoned tenkara anglers might opt for shorter ones to ensure perfect turnover. During September’s low flows, bright-colored lines may deter fish. Our furled, tapered lines, especially in muted tones, are often a better choice. For instance, the Rhodo manages our 15′ furled line adequately, while the Ito handles it effortlessly.
Almost all our flies are apt for this season. However, if fish appear wary—easier to notice in clear waters—I gravitate towards our tiniest fly, the Takayama kebari. On cloudier days, switching from a subtle drift with the Takayama kebari to pulsing our most massive fly, the Oki Kebari can be productive. This technique mirrors streamer fishing and is particularly effective on vast rivers during cloudy times or at dawn and dusk.
In conclusion, September may present its fair share of challenges, but it’s far from being a lost cause. Sometimes, moments reminiscent of July’s effortless fishing suddenly emerge, especially when the sun retreats. Persistence is key, and the rewards? Absolutely worth the wait!
An old guide friend of mine used to say, “The hardest thing about fishing Montana in summer is deciding what to do”. This statement holds true not just for Montana but for anglers across the country. Summer represents primetime for a multitude of fishing enthusiasts, with an abundance of options at their disposal.
The Rocky Mountain Runoff Period
Particularly in the Rockies, we experience an extended runoff period. This is when snowmelt raises the rivers and mountain streams to levels where they aren’t ideal for fishing. However, the upside to this is that as the river levels decrease, the fish are hungry and haven’t seen any fishing pressure for that period. The biggest challenge for anglers is to strategize how to capitalize on this early summer opportunity.
Classical Tenkara Season in Montana
For me, summer signifies the onset of the “classical tenkara” season, characterized by fishing tenkara as it has been practiced in its Japanese origins.
Mountain streams in most of the Rocky Mountain West never fish better than they do in summer once the spring runoff finally subsides until the weather starts to turn in September.
Equipment Selection: The Sato and Satoki Rods
When these mountain streams finally clear up enough for fishing, my preference is to utilize my Sato rod, which performs excellently on small to medium streams. I also recommend our new Satoki rod or our Ito rod for larger freestone streams in the Rockies.
Tackling Different Conditions: Line and Fly Choices
During summer fishing, I prefer using 3.5-level lines. The wind isn’t as much of an issue in summer as it is during the volatile spring months. Fly selection, especially on mountain streams, is relatively less of an issue in peak summer fishing. Large Oki kebari and Amano kebari flies are my go-to choices, depending on the presence of larger insects. One note, terrestrials can become a big factor as summer wanes. Sometimes a big chunky sakasa fly can still work great, but this is a time of year I may chuck some hoppers, etc.
Fly Presentations and Techniques
My primary fly presentation this time of year is a simple dead drift. That said, experimenting with a pulsed fly or skittered fly can yield surprising results and add an extra level of fun to your fishing experience! If fish are on terrestrials, try to make your sakasa flies “plop” when they hit the water. A little more forceful forward cast can do the trick on this and it usually works best for bank feeding fish.
The Importance of Summer: Prime Time Fishing
The most important tip we can give you about summer is to seize the opportunity and get out there! This is prime time for fishing. Household projects and other responsibilities can wait! Just go fishing and ask for forgiveness afterward! We hope you have a fantastic summer of tenkara in Montana!
Tenkara USA is pleased to extend our selection of tapered tenkara lines. We’re adding a 15-foot furled tapered line to our existing assortment of 9-foot, 11-foot, and 13-foot options, offering anglers more reach on the water.
Excellent Size for Larger Streams and Still Waters
Our new 15-foot furled tapered line upholds the quality and durability you’ve come to expect from Tenkara USA’s furled lines. It’s an excellent option for larger streams and still waters, providing the extra reach when you need it.
Thoroughly Tested for Optimized Performance
We spent years testing this line before deciding it was time to release it. While it’s a bit heavier for traditional tenkara presentations where all casting line is held off the water, it excels in long tight line applications, such as fishing a pulsed fly or swinging/skating a fly.
Versatile in Different Fishing Conditions
I’ve found this longer line particularly useful for sight fishing in local bass ponds, where its subtle color and precision casting are beneficial. The 15-foot furled line performs equally well when casting to high mountain lake cutthroats in crystal clear water.
Great for Windy Days and Dry Fly Fishing
The line also handles well in windy conditions. I typically let some of the casting line into the water to anchor it. Like our other furled lines, this one is slightly denser than water, so it sinks slowly without dragging down a western dry fly during normal presentations. It’s an effective tool for dry fly fishing on large western rivers like the Madison and Gallatin.
Long Tippets Turned Over with Ease
The 15-foot furled line turns over long tippets easily. I usually pair this line with 4 or 5 feet of tippet from the tippet ring to the fly. But feel free to adjust the tippet length to suit your fishing style and conditions.
Try Our Longest Line Yet
We’re confident you’ll appreciate the reach and versatility of our new 15-foot line. Click here to learn more about this line, and don’t hesitate to ask us any questions.
Tenkara USA is proud to introduce a new, truly functional piece of apparel, the Fly-Weight Jacket. Often the best fishing conditions involve inclement weather, and having a portable and effective rain jacket can turn a cold, wet slog back to the car into a banner day on the water. Also, a light rain jacket is a wonderful windbreaker when the temperature is pleasant until the wind kicks up.
Compact Design for Easy Storage and Deployment
The Fly-Weight Jacket is designed to be easily stored. It can be rolled up into its own pocket, making for a very tight package. For my use, I’ve found that rolling it up into the hood and then cinching it down with the tension string on the hood is packable enough and a bit easier to do on the fly. Either way, it’s very easy to keep in your pack or vest and easily deployed when bad weather hits.
Clean, Low-Profile Features for Hassle-Free Fishing
A huge gripe I’ve had with “fishing” jackets in the past is that they’re not “clean”. The few zippers on the Fly-Weight are well constructed but very low profile. This minimizes the chance they’ll snag on your line when hand-lining in the fish of the day. A favorite feature is the “pit-zips” on the jacket, which allow the already breathable jacket to be even more comfortable. The pit-zips can be closed up when that pleasant light summer rain turns into a gusting sideways downpour. Even if the weather ends the fishing for a bit, it will help you stay dry until the squall passes.
Standard Features and Stylish Olive & Black Colors
The jacket also has the standard features of a modern rain jacket, with velcro cinching cuffs on the sleeves and a reinforced (but not overbuilt) hood to help hold its shape and coverage. The olive color is exactly what I want in a fishing garment, natural in tone but nice looking enough that I’m not afraid to wear it to my favorite burger joint on the way home. The Jacket also comes in a classic black tone.
Experience Tenkara USA’s Commitment to Quality
As with all of the gear we sell, we’ve tried to bring you a jacket that offers everything you need and nothing you don’t for a great day on the water or just enjoying the outdoors. Stay dry and keep fishing with Tenkara USA’s Fly-Weight Jacket!
I’ve talked about the gear we like for spring, but let’s dive into tenkara fishing techniques for the season. We can break this down into the when, the where, and the how. Keep in mind that the preferred tactics and techniques in the northern Rockies may or may not be appropriate in your home waters. Before I began tenkara fishing, I was a pretty hardcore dry fly guy, and some of those traditions and biases are still in my fishing. Tenkara USA has always tried to prioritize technique over gear, so hopefully, these suggestions will give you some ideas to think about, even if your own findings are contrary to mine.
When to Go Spring Fishing with Tenkara Techniques
Typically in the spring, the best tenkara fishing will not be first thing in the morning. I’ve become an early bird as I’ve gotten older and am usually on my second cup of coffee by 6:00 am, but rarely get to the river much before noon. Spring water temperatures, at least here in Montana, are usually still pretty chilly in the mornings. Both the fish and the insects that get them moving are more active in the early to late afternoons. I’ve actually had good tenkara fishing until sundown. As we get closer to summer, I may go out a little earlier, at least until we get into full-blown spring runoff, but spring fishing is usually an afternoon activity for me. If you’re fishing tailwater and spring creeks that have more constant water temperatures, this may not be as much of an issue.
Where to Fish with Tenkara Techniques in Spring
While most tenkara anglers love to fish mountain streams, most of mine stay icy a lot later than some of the larger rivers. Tailwater and spring creeks offer “spring” conditions earlier than frozen freestones. Historically, a lot of the small streams I like to fish are also not legally open to fishing as early as the larger waters. They’re often closed to protect spawning fish running up from the larger rivers. Most of my spring fishing is on larger water like the Madison and the Gallatin. That’s one reason why I usually use larger rods in the spring, like our Ito or new Satoki rod. Small spring creeks and tailwater can offer excellent tenkara fishing in the early season, so if you have access to those, they may make a great option. Larger waters can be intimidating for some tenkara anglers used to smaller mountain streams, but I’d encourage all of you to be open to fishing larger waters if that’s what’s open and fishing well. It can be done very effectively with tenkara. Remember, larger rivers can be broken up into small rivers if you look closely, as each new seam may be a small river all into itself.
How to Use Tenkara Techniques for Spring Fishing Success
When I head out to the river in the spring, I’m usually hoping for rising or at least actively feeding fish as a reward for making it through another Montana winter. When I get to the water, I usually spend a fair amount of time looking for this kind of activity before I start casting with my tenkara rod. Fish usually come back to the same spots to rise over the year, and I’ll pay special attention to those spots where I’ve found rising fish in the past. If I find rising fish, I usually try to drop in just below them and make a simple upstream cast above where they’re rising, letting the fly drift down to them. This is about as simple as tenkara fishing gets: see fish, cast to fish, hopefully hook fish. Just because fish are rising doesn’t mean I’m not fishing traditional tenkara flies. Our small Takayama kebari can work great during a midge hatch on the Madison, as can other wet flies like a Syl’s Midge or even a small partridge and orange (even when the midges are all black, never did understand that one). If you’re just below rising fish, it’s usually very easy to detect strikes to wet flies “in the wash”. The tenkara line and tippet point to the fly. I find it much easier to detect fish eating small flies with tenkara than western fly fishing for this reason.
I must admit that I do like to fish western dries at this time of year. Kind of goes back to that “reward for making it through another Montana winter” thing again. The fish haven’t seen much pressure yet, so usually general imitations like a parachute Adams or Griffith’s Gnat work great. Later in the spring when Blue Winged Olives make their appearance, I love fishing an olive Sparkle Dun, but the Adams still works great. I fish these almost exactly like the small wet flies. Sometimes I can see dries this small, but often I’m still using the line as a strike/drift indicator. One very nice thing about tenkara fishing is that a waterlogged dry fly that’s not as visible but still fine to the fish can still be fished effectively using the “tenkara advantage” of the visible casting line.
Of course, we can’t always see fish working. If I’ve convinced myself the fish won’t be up, I prefer to fish traditional kebari flies, usually some variant on the sakasa style. I really like the Ishigaki and Oki flies we sell this time of year. I’ve had good luck with both dead-drifted flies and active presentations like pulsing (my favorite). It seems that water temperature plays a role here. When it’s cold, the fish don’t seem as likely to chase a moving fly. The sun can also play a role on the waters I fish, especially if brown trout are the predominant species in the water. Less sun is usually better unless that overcast is coupled with a cold front. If the fish aren’t very active, sinking the fly deeply may be necessary. I prefer to do that if I can with techniques like plunging and using the currents of the river to suck my fly down.
Many anglers do find it helpful to use a weighted fly or added weight this time of year. Indicator nymphing can be done very effectively with a tenkara rod. My friend Larry Tullis gave me and some other members of the Tenkara USA crew some tips on the finer points of what he’s termed as “bounce nymphing”. This tactic is effective any time of year, but can really help turn things around when lethargic fish are hugging the bottom. I like heavier rods any time I’m fishing a lot of weight, and our new Satoki is easily my favorite for it. Some of these tactics can get pretty far from traditional tenkara, but can also make for a productive day of fishing that otherwise might not be.
I truly love spring in the Rockies and the tenkara fishing that comes with it. The above suggestions may or may not help you in your home waters. When in doubt, keep it simple and just go fishing. Spring is a wonderful time to be out on the water, (perhaps my favorite) so make the best of it with these tenkara techniques and tips from Tenkara USA!
As you venture out for spring fishing with your tenkara rod, remember that the when, the where, and the how are essential to making the most of your experience. Tailor your tenkara fishing techniques to the specific conditions of your local waters, and always be open to exploring new waters and trying new strategies. With these tips from Tenkara USA, you’ll be well-equipped to enjoy a successful and rewarding spring fishing season.
One of the most common questions we get at Tenkara USA is, “What is the difference between the kinds of lines for my tenkara rod?” or at least some variation on that theme. First off, I want to say that line choice is largely a matter of personal preference. There aren’t a lot of situations where one tenkara line will work and another absolutely won’t, but they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I’d like to discuss our different options, what I like about each, and why you may want to use one over the other.
I’ll start with the tapered nylon lines. These are probably the lines most of our customers start with, as they’re what comes with our starter kit. There are good reasons for that. The tapered nylon lines offer a lot of features that make things easy for new tenkara anglers. First, the nature of a tapered line makes the transition of energy to turn the line over a bit smoother. They’re just a pretty easy line to cast. Continue reading
Written by Martin Montejano
While the summer wains, some of the flows throughout the watershed may start to dissipate. Tenkara fishing tailwaters will often offer more opportunities for fishing during the transition into fall.
Consistent temperatures and flows, especially when regulated by a dam, often provide a great environment for trout all year long. I generally save these waters for later in the summer when the fishing slows down in the rest of the watershed. One of the biggest challenges on the tailwaters in my area is the size of the water. I will admit that I have often struggled to catch fish in the wide, open runs that hold very little tells as to where fish might be. Over the seasons, I have found a few tips that have helped me to catch fish in these types of waters.
Dividing the water into smaller currents tends to help. After observing flows and currents, it’s much easier to manage a section that you know is within your casting range than trying to blindly fish the entire width of a river. Doing this can help take some guesswork out of where to cast, especially if you can see some activity from fish within the flows.
If you are lucky enough to find boulders or a large pool at the end of some riffles, this is also a great area to float a fly through. Fish in bigger waters still look for the same shelter and food sources as ones in smaller waters.
Areas near boulders and deep pools often have slack water next to them. The calmer water and slower flows present an easier option when trying to find trout in big, open rivers. It also allows for more options as far as presentation. In a previous article, I talked about Gyakubiki, a surface presentation that involves skating the fly towards a structure or bank. This can still be an effective presentation on more open waters while fish may be sipping flies off the surface, but it will still pose the same challenges in setting the hook.
While timing can play a big role in when a surface presentation can be used effectively on larger rivers, a subsurface presentation will often be the best way to entice trout in these types of waters. In a similar concept to the aforementioned Gyakubiki, Yokobiki can be utilized by drifting a fly under the surface, then slowly pulling it toward the closest bank. You’ll want the kebari to sink a bit before it drifts past you, then while holding the rod tip parallel to the water and down current, slight movements of the rod tip back toward the bank will cause the fly to swim sideways across the flows, toward the bank. Setting the hook while performing this presentation can be tricky. The timing of the strike may come while you have tension in the line, making it difficult to get a good set, but just be sure to pull toward the bank and not upstream when a fish does strike.
In the last article, I talked about utilizing the Leisenring lift while fishing deeper pools. This presentation is still a viable option when you are fortunate enough to find a deeper pocket of water on the river. Sometimes the best way to position when fishing these pools will be to stand upstream and to let the fly dive down in the current, then lift out of the pool. This can present the same issues of setting the hook as Yokobiki had. With standing more toward the center of the river, pulling the rod tip towards the sides will offer better hooksets than if you were to pull the rod tip vertically and back upstream. One thing to note is that the fly will tend to move along the path of the tippet while it is submerged, which may pull the kebari away from the fish’s mouth, so plan your hooksets accordingly.
These wide tailwaters often hold bigger, stronger fish. And with that, a new challenge as you try to bring one to hand! When you have a fish on the end of the line, control will be one of the key things to remember. Keeping the rod tip parallel or closer to the water will allow the fish to stay deeper in the current. Doing this can help prevent the fish from jumping but may also make it more difficult to fight your catch. Be sure to switch sides of the rod to play the fish while you’re trying to bring it in, and don’t be afraid to move downstream and toward the bank to bring it into more manageable flows! Be sure to bring a net with you and revive the fish before releasing it back into the river. Good fish handling skills will help ensure a healthy watershed, and others will be able to enjoy fishing the river as well!
While the seasons change and summer turns into fall, and fall into winter, these tailwater fisheries may remain active! Some may even host a run of salmon as they make their way upstream to spawn. Be sure to follow local regulations for the rivers, and be aware of redds that may be present as you fish.
The fish in these big open waters often have more access to a variety of insects, making it difficult to key in on what they may be snacking on. And, with more pressure from other anglers, they can become picky and skeptical of what floats by them. Be sure to try different presentations and approaches as you fish bigger waters.
The previous articles I have written all hold different ways to present the kebari in various situations. Be sure to check out all of them, from “Dry Fly Fishing Season” and “Into the Mountains” to “Familiar Waters” and “Go With the Flow,” as I have tried to cover as many different types of water and techniques as I could and I hope it helps you get out there and enjoy fishing with tenkara!
Martin Montejano is a Northern California-based fixed-line angler. From spring-fed creeks in the mountains to rivers that run through deep-cut valleys, he fishes a multitude of waters in and around the Sierra Nevadas.
You can follow along as he shares his adventures and experiences at @sagehearttenkara on Instagram.
Martin’s favorite TUSA rod is the ITO™ 13′ / 14’7″ (adjustable)