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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)
Written by Martin Montejano
The flows on one of my favorite rivers are just about perfect, the fish are biting, and they should be hanging in the stretches of riffles and deep pools until the end of the season!
While I plan to spend most of my time over the next few months fishing around the boulders and cobbles that line the bed and banks of the river, I will be reinstating a few practices that I’ve found to be helpful on tenkara waters with stronger currents.
Tenkara Community Submission Written by Sean Jansen
I’ve been fascinated by the combination of activities. Just picking up my fly rod and going down to the local lake or river doesn’t excite me anymore. But combine a 5-mile hike into the wilderness to an unfished stretch of stream and the bags are packed. I’ve been fortunate to backpack and fly fish, hike, cast, stand-up paddle to remote shores, and even use a bicycle to cruise the local highway to access remote stretches of river. But one sport I haven’t been able to combine with fishing is trail running. I run daily after work, on the weekends, and between casts. It’s my therapy. Never did it occur to me to combine it with fly fishing, until now.
While the month of June offered great fishing in higher elevation creeks, some of those tributaries’ flows are starting to drop, and the fish are moving lower in the watershed. For the time being, I am back to fishing some of the more familiar waters in my area.
Coming back to the creeks I fish regularly helps shift my perspective from going after smaller fish to practicing some presentations and habits for fishing bigger waters in the next few months. While the creeks don’t often hold big trout, knowing popular holding spots for fish helps me to practice different tenkara techniques.