Ebbs and Flows – Tenkara Fishing Tailwaters

On October 5, 2022
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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.

waterDividing 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)

 

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