Look Both Ways Before You Cross The
by TJ Ferreira
Remember that old saying that your mother would tell you,”make sure you look both ways before you cross the road”? I have been hearing Ebisu lately from high in the heavens telling me the same thing when I enter a river to go play with trout. He has also told me I have much to learn.
Reading trout waters is something every tenkara angler must learn, and it is something I continue to work on. Learning to read the waters to spot where trout are likely to hold may be the difference between being skunked and catching fish.
I was fortunate to be able to fish with Daniel Galhardo and John Geer of Tenkara USA in Virginia during the Tenkara Summit 2013. I kept an eagle eye on them most the time trying to soak up fishing knowledge as we traversed the river. In the last almost 4 years I have learned a great deal on how to go tenkara fishing but I consider myself still an amateur at best. I know enough now to cast well enough, present a fly well enough, and to stumble on the rivers just well enough to, well…. catch trout. One thing I do know is that I have a long way to go before I can say I really know how to read a river well and that I am a seasoned fisherman.
Don’t get me wrong, I have come a very long way since starting tenkara back in 2010, but it is
refreshing humbling to watch those that have fly fished for many years wade into almost any river and immediately start catching trout. When I go out on my solo trips, catching trout is always a bonus and in the last couple of years I have learned enough and fished often enough where I catch at least one trout every trip. It is a wonderful feeling knowing a kebari I tied and a cast that I made is catching many surprised trout where my tenkara rod takes me. But, there is always plenty of room for improvement and that means being humble enough to know one never really becomes a master of something, although some seem to get darned close. Maybe when I get to my 90s I will be decent enough.
For 2013, one of my goals is to keep up with my casting and try to continue to improve. I do well enough but with every 10 really good casts, I always have some bloopers on every fishing adventure. As the day progresses, I am either in a zone and kicking butt or there are days I get too tired and lazy and my casts go to pot. They may be good enough to catch fish but I am striving to do better anyway. My main goal now though is better reading of trout waters. I have a number of books on just this subject and they have been very helpful. Books like Reading Trout Waters by Dave Hughes and The Orvis Guide To Reading Trout Streams by Tom Rosenbauer are “must haves” for any tenkara fisher-person. But… the best place to learn how to read the trout waters is out on the water with friends that have more experience than you where you can watch them with an eagle eye and see what they are seeing.
I was able to use my eagle eye during the Tenkara Summit 2013 and was amazed at how well Daniel and John read the river. Daniel wanted to get some video of me catching and landing a trout and him and John said fish here. I proceeded to connect my line to my rod, telescoped the rod, and started making my way into the river. Half the way into the river I hear the Family Feud Buzzer going off in my head telling me, “hey dummy, why did you not make a few casts to the water you just walked through”? Looking back the odds were slim trout would have been where I had just walked to since the water was real fast, high, and the spot did not look fishy, but… it does not hurt making a couple casts anyway just in case.
I then proceeded to cast downstream into plunge pools and pockets I felt trout would be. I actually officially caught my first trout of the trip in that spot but the water was so fast I had the trout on for maybe 3 seconds before he popped off. I had my taste buds going though after that!
Daniel took a nice picture of me casting into an area trout would be and I have annotated the image to show some great spots where I cast to right away. Looking back at this image though there was a nice “slow water” area above the plunge pools I should have cast first. I was greedy though and went right for the picturesque pockets I felt my best chance of snagging my first brook trout. On this image I have marked it as “Try First” because I never did that day. I just waddled like a bull onto the water and started casting to the prime spots.
The image I marked up does not mark all spots I feel trout are but you get the idea. The issue I wanted to point out is look first, both ways, and even up and down, before heading into the river. At a minimum, make a few casts to where you plan on walking out to just in case a sneaky trout is there waiting for some good bugs. After those first casts, look across from where you are standing and see if there are any other spots that may hold trout before really working that pristine spot. Of course do this quietly and effectively not to spook off the trout from that pristine spot that first caught your eye.
This blog is not a manual on how to read the water but to signal to you to look both ways before you proceed into the river. Read, analyze, enter, catch trout. Having watched Daniel heading toward some spots he felt trout were he kept casting as he approached that spot. During this time he is talking to John and I watching him as he looked back at us. Next thing we know he has a brookie on board (surprised him too), one of those sneaky ones that wanted to ride the good ship Tenkara Ito. Just went to show that keeping the kebari in the water and making casts to spots that may or may not hold trout, can make you head home that night not skunked. I don’t mind those accidental trout one bit.
If you take anything away from this blog post, keep this in mind. Cast to places you are about to tread on if you think they have any chance of holding a trout, and if you don’t think they do, cast there once or twice anyway. Next, look both ways, and even up and down, to see if there are any spots you can quickly and quietly make a cast to that may hold a sneaky little trout. These spots may reward you with a nice new friend. Most folks probably go right to the pretty water right away yet some of that uglier water may have some of the prettiest trout of the day.
Glad I listed to my mom when I was a kid and will remember to look both ways from now on.
Headed out for a phenomenal afternoon of tenkara fishing. Carried a prototype tenkara rod I’m working on, tenkara line and two tenkara flies I tied before heading out. Shot entirely with an iPhone. There are a couple of tips in this short movie too. This video is 5 minutes long, with a song by Takenobu. Make sure to watch it in HD (click on the gear icon, and then 720 or 1080). Hope you enjoy it.
After 2 decades of using an improved clinch to tie my fly to tippet, I decided to give a new knot a real try. This knot was taught to me by Dr. Ishigaki a couple of years ago, but being so used to tying the improved clinch it was difficult to change. Then, while doing some instructional filming for an upcoming DVD and trying to find ways to simplify tenkara instructions , I was inspired to use this knot. It seems to be a slight variation of the Scaffold Knot, with two loops rather than 3, I will call it a “double-loop slip knot”. It is the exact same knot as tippet to level line, and very similar to the level line to rod tip knot. It is very quick to tie, and as I have found out it is a super strong knot. I have not yet lost a single fly to poor knots (that includes fishing with one fly and not replacing tippet at all for 2 1/2 days of fishing on a backpacking trip where I caught over 40 fish on it, and a subsequent trip with multiple 18-22″ fish).
If you’re looking into a new knot, or are new to fly-fishing and want a simpler set of knots, give this one a try. It has become my “one tenkara knot”.
A writeup about In Search of Tenkara Part 3 is below. In case you missed parts 1 and 2:
In Search of Tenkara, Part 2:
In Search of Tenkara, Part 1:
About “In Search of Tenkara, Part 3″:
Let me get this out of the way first: I used non-tenkara flies, split shot and even a bobber! Let me explain (and I cover this in the video too).
Over the last couple of days my “one fly” (technique over gear) approach was really challenged. For over 2.5 years I have chosen to stick with one fly pattern and focus on refining techniques, as my teachers in Japan have taught me, to see how far I could go with using one fly pattern.
I once said to a class that “the one fly approach works…until it doesn’t”. In streams, spring creeks and rivers thorough the US, in different seasons, the approach has so far always worked. However, I have been waiting for a moment to be shown that it does not; and when the moment came I would not be above changing flies. I thought this finally would be the time where “one fly” would be proven to not work everywhere.
With the end of the Fly Fishing Show season I finally feel that I can enjoy my new home and the new homewaters that surround it. There are two beautiful streams within a 10 minute drive from home, but I have barely fished them at all since arriving here. Between moving in, visiting family in Brazil and being gone every weekend for the shows, with barely time to catch up with other stuff in between, I was really missing the water. I have to get my priorities straight again.
Yesterday evening Margaret and I went to check out Eldorado Canyon, an area we hadn’t yet visited since moving here and through which South Boulder Creek runs. We had our dog along, and not much sunlight left. So I really wasn’t focused on fishing. But, I also had brought a tenkara rod and my kit along just in case. We hiked through some snow down to the stream, which had a pretty good amount of water, and I setup my rod. It is winter, the fish tend to hold deeper and be less active, and since Margaret wasn’t fishing I told her I was just going to try “a few casts”. I wasn’t expecting much.
Feeling the hope that all anglers feel when they cast to a pool, I proceeded to cast my fly, an Oki kebari, to the first pool. I apprehensively awaited for a strike, but nothing on the first dead drift. I cast three or four more times, and moved to the next pool. This pool looked “fishier”. I did one dead drift, but nothing; and so I decided to pulsate my fly a little. Nothing still. Continue reading
If you know fish will take your dry fly, even if it is wet and under, or…
If you know you can false-cast your fly to fish near the surface, you don’t need… floatant
If you know how to use currents to sink your fly, you don’t need… split-shot
If you know how to keep your line tight, and watch it as it goes by, you don’t need… strike indicators
If you know how to tie three of simple knots, you don’t need… tippet rings or dacron for the level line
If you know you can cut your line using your teeth, you don’t need… nippers (though we highly recommend this, because…you should know you can ruin your teeth that way!)
If you know 4X and 6X looks virtually the same underwater, you don’t need… multiple spools of tippet
If you know most fish will be caught between 15 and 40ft away from you, you don’t need… a bunch of line
If you know tenkara allows you to keep it off the water, you don’t need… to mend your drift
If you know how to tie flies by holding the hook, you don’t need… a vise
If you know fish checkout most things that could be food, you don’t need… a hundred fly patterns
If you know most artificial flies resemble many different things under water, you don’t need… 30 fly patterns
If you know how to present one fly in a variety of different ways, you don’t need… a dozen fly patterns
If you know the points above, you don’t need… a vest full of pockets
If you know you can fish with a pole that has the line tied to its tip…
If you know you can fish with a fixed-length of line…
AND, If you know you can land a fish without a reel, you don’t need…well… a reel.
My grandfather used to say, “knowledge is the only thing no one can take away from you”, and generally it is difficult to lose or forget it at home. The nicest thing about knowing, is that once you know you can leave a lot of things behind. And, as they say, “knowledge is weightless”.
What else do you know that would allow us to minimize what we carry and what we think we need?
by TJ Ferreira
False casting has a certain romantic magic about it when it is done out on a river. Enough romance with false casting that it can be considered that money shot in a film or money shot while demonstrating how to cast a fly rod.
At this year’s International Sportsman Expo (ISE for short), Tenkara USA had a booth right near the main casting pool. It was a great spot where we could easily escort folks fascinated with tenkara over to the pool, lean over the curtain, and start casting away at the targets in the pool, even as other people zipped their lines right past our ears. We didn’t need much space.
It has always struck me as a bit funny to have mini rods made for the purpose of practicing casting (although I recognize it strikes a lot of people as funny to use no reels). Thing is, you can’t fish with practice casting rods, they are a toy. But I also recognize that most of us fly anglers also enjoy casting, and that we can always use a little practice to get more precise with our casting.
When I was creating Tenkara USA I lived in a tiny studio apartment. As I was working a full-time job and working on TUSA on the side, often times I didn’t have time to go to the casting ponds near home during the day. I’d receive samples from our line maker and couldn’t wait to try them out. So, I’d get my tenkara rods, extend only a couple of segments out and get a feel for how they cast. The good ones I’d take out during my precious weekend fishing time. In fact, I didn’t realize it till this weekend, but there I had a perfect practice casting rod.
This weekend Lance Gurney was helping out at our booth and at one point we talked about the practice rods our dealers were selling. He suggested making a mini practice tenkara rod. Winters can be pretty cold out in parts of the country and this could give the bored angler a diversion when he’s stuck inside. The line testing I did in my tiny apartment came to mind the moment he mentioned this.
I proceeded to tell him that we didn’t need a toy for practicing casting. We had the perfect practice casting rod right there, just collapse a couple/few segments down, and voilà. To make it perfect, just fill the gap with a piece of folded paper/foam/etc. It is probably best to use the traditional tenkara line for this purpose as it is slightly heavier and more supple.
So, whenever you get bored at home next time, or if you want to play this casting game, just pull out your tenkara rod, rig it up, extend 4 segments and have some fun. If it warms up the next day, you can take the same rod and line out and actually catch fish with it.
Fish seek two things in particular: food and shelter. Both of these elements change in the winter, food becomes more scarce, and in many parts of the country so do their options for shelter. As temperatures drop, the stream will freeze; places for fish to hide change and so do the places with greatest food-generating potential. Undercuts by slower moving may get blocked by ice. But,
as global warming takes effect and we experience a 65 degree weather in January when it warms up, the ice opens up and reveals a new kind of structure that anglers can target: ice shelves.
Some time ago I was reading an article by Ralph and Lisa Cutter in California Fly Fisher. In the article, Ralph describes putting on his winter clothes and dry-suit and diving into a semi-frozen Sierra Nevada lake to observe fish and bugs underwater. He describes diving underneath the large ice-shelf to explore the unexplored parts of a frozen lake. I clearly remember the image of cave diving coming into my mind, but I physically felt very cold while reading his words. While I do not have the article to quote from, he describes finding a big concentration of bugs – midges I believe – right at the edge of the ice shelf. Food? Check.
Further, most streams and lakes will not freeze to the bottom. The ice that forms in the majority of parts will be a shelf, meaning there will be plenty of places to hide underneath. A predator coming from above would have to piece through the ice to get to the fish. Shelter? Check!
Areas where water is flowing into may stay open and are also likely to have a better amount of food coming in. For example, take a look at the foam line in the first picture below, on the opposite side of the stream, the amount of ice there is smaller despite the shadow. And, as they say “foam is home”, as it often indicates places of stronger turbulence that may have taken bugs down as the water plunged into the pool, or water with slightly faster velocity that carries with it some food.
I have also noticed fish cruising under ice in places with slower water. In multiple occasions I would see their shadows gliding below the ice. They would come out and often “sip” right by the edge of the ice shelves as in the picture below, reinforcing Ralph’s observation that there are bugs at the edge of the ice.
Can you spot the fish in the picture below? This was one fish I did not catch, on purpose. He was very close to the shore, a greenback cutthroat. I spotted him coming from below the ice and eating every time he stepped out of his protected ice cave. He seemed to sip down a bug every minute precisely. I just watched him, in awe, and somehow was able to resist the temptation to cast my fly to him. “Too easy” I thought. Plus, he was having it hard enough with little water that would soon freeze again. It is one of the few fish I have not cast a fly to but remember clearly. I still get as much joy from that memory as from any fish I have ever caught.
But, I couldn’t resist his neighbor…
Written by TJ,
It seems there are many conversations about tenkara these days about line length. I guess when you have simple form of fly fishing where just a rod, line, and fly are needed, it may seem that there is not much more to talk about. In reality though, there are many other things to be worked on, practiced, discussed, and that would be casting techniques.
Something I am seeing in myself, and I am sure others are also doing, is that we try to graduate to long lines too fast instead of focusing on something I feel is more important: that you try to master as many different casting techniques using shorter lines before you try to go to long lines.
There is a very good exchange on the Tenkara Anglers page on Facebook about the now famous tenkara approach of using one fly.
Tenkara Guide Tom Sadler put some thoughts in his good blog here:
The other day I came across this great chart put together by Vlad Odnoshivkin, from the blog Tenkara in Siberia. It was too good not to share it more widely. It is very nicely done, beautiful to look at, and most importantly it quickly illustrates tenkara: how it can be used effectively to reach fish without being seen, how different line lengths can reach fish in different ways, and more. The “three people” on the left are images of Dr. Ishigaki in different fishing stances; the person on the far right is Mr. Sakakibara Masami. Enough said, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from it.
Video shot by Brian Trow, of Mossy Creek Fly Fishing.
Please click on the gear icon and select the higher resolution (1080p), and/or make the video bigger by clicking on the lower left icon, in order to see the line and technique more clearly.
I took a group out for a tenkara clinic in a spring creek, Mossy Creek in Virginia. I don’t get to fish spring creeks all that often but tenkara can be super effective in those waters, particularly because you can keep the main line from touching the water (if one doesn’t it to), therefore avoiding spooking fish. My very favorite technique for spring creeks, and something that has worked in just about every spring creek I have fished so far, is the “pause-and-drift” technique. For this technique, one casts across, or slightly down, and pauses the fly in place for a second and lets the fly drift, pauses and lets it drift.
Tenkara has opened the doors to fly-fishing for a lot of people, and it has proved to be a great conduit for plain old fun, no matter the ability of the user. It is moments like this (and like these other trips) that make me very proud to promote a simple method of fly-fishing. And, it makes me very proud to know and work with the Tenkara Guides, Erik, John and Rob, as they pursue introducing more people with disabilities to fishing with a fly. The video was shot and edited by Sam, “The No Handed Bandit”.
The Tenkara Guides (based in Salt Lake City, Utah) are really eliminating any limitations people with disabilities may have felt when it comes to fishing. They bring an interesting mix to the table as Rob is a doctor who focuses on rehabilitation therapy through recreational opportunities and John and Erik are great tenkara guides with extensive experience in engineering. All I can say is, “nicely done guydes!”
Written by Jason
“Trout Hangouts” is an ongoing series in which I highlight one specific element or structure of a river, stream, creek, or lake where trout like to hold and talk about how to approach it. Many fly fishers might know how to fish, but not necessarily where to fish. By dissecting the complicated infrastructures of different types of waters into more focused, manageable pieces, any angler can learn how to read the water and figure out exactly where to cast and apply their skills.
In a recent post, I talked about how fish seek out slower water when rivers are high and muddy. The same rule applies under normal conditions in faster, whitewater runs. While it might be tempting to throw your fly right in the middle of a fast run (because that’s probably the deepest part) it’s not a good holding spot for trout.
First of all, it’s too fast. Trout seek out places where they don’t have to spend a lot of energy to stay in one place. But, they also want to leverage the current to carry insects and other food to them. Essentially, they want to find a lie with a good balance between energy spent vs. energy received. Holding in whitewater just takes too much energy.
Secondly, whitewater is, well, white. With the water churning so violently, it becomes opaque, making it difficult for the fish to see potential food. So even if they did want a workout, they wouldn’t be able to see a nymph if it were right in front of them. Or, by the time they did, it would be long gone because of the speed of the current.
Take a look at the picture above. The green arrows represent where I would focus my presentations. Notice I’m targeting the slower water around the edges of the whitewater. These are the best holding spots for trout in a run like this. Notice too that I’m not only fishing the edges, but the very tail of the run. Fish will hold here too even if it is a only short distance because they get the benefit of the whitewater above them stirring up insects from the bottom, without having to struggle to hold in the faster water. Essentially, you want to carve out the whitewater with your presentations.
Leave whitewater for the kayakers. For the fly angler, the slower moving edges are the more exciting part!