Fishing Small Streams and Tight Waters

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February 6, 2017


Fly-fishing small streams and tight waters require the right tactics. In this episode Daniel discusses the equipment, rigging options and techniques used to fish small small streams with your tenkara rod, line and fly.

Referenced in this episode:
The Rhodo tenkara rod:

Transcript of podcast episode Fishing Small Streams and Tight Waters

This is Daniel Galhardo, and you’re listening to the Tenkara Cast, a podcast about the simple Japanese method of fly fishing, the tenkara. In the Tenkara Cast we’ll be sharing information on techniques, history, philosophy, and tenkara stories from anglers all over the world. This podcast is brought to you by Tenkara USA, introducing tenkara outside of Japan since 2009. It’s only possible we create content such as this podcast and videos because of your support, so we thank you so very much for purchasing Tenkara USA rods, lines and flies. I hope you enjoy learning more about this simple method of fly fishing.

Hey everyone, thanks for joining me again on another episode of the Tenkara Cast. Today I’m gonna keep it a little bit short, but I did wanna get to something that has been on my list of potential episodes that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time and I haven’t gotten to it for whatever reason before, but today I open up our blog page, and there was a comment from somebody asking me about if I was ever… What my take was, on very tight and very tiny tenkara rods, micro tenkara rods essentially, sub eight foot, if I was ever gonna develop one, and I’m assuming of course that the question was based on perhaps that person’s interest in fishing very tight streams.

So today, I’m gonna be talking a little bit about what my take is on very short tenkara rods, as well as tactics and techniques for fishing some of the tightest of streams that you’ll find, and where you can take tenkara without a problem, if you know a few things that you can do with your tenkara rod. So in terms of fishing very small streams, first of all, let’s define small streams because years ago I stopped using the term small streams for describing the ideal waters for tenkara because the term small streams brings up… What is a small stream, first of all? So it can be a small narrow meadow streams that are very open. It can be, what I consider medium size streams, like 25 to 40 feet wide that perhaps have a little bit of trees around. Some people might consider some rivers to be small streams because they might be used to spending time in very large, hundreds of foot wide rivers, and when they go to some place that is 50 foot wide, they might consider that a smaller stream.

So the episode today is gonna focus on the smaller streams that have more canopy overhead, more dense vegetation around and over the angler, because those are the kinds of streams where it can get a little bit more challenging to fish if we talk about fishing small streams. And by small streams we mean like a meadowy stream with no cover covering the water, those are pretty of fish, you just… You have the long rod and you’re mostly facing upstream, even if the stream is three feet wide, you can fish those without a problem. And I don’t think I have to talk too much about that.

But the ones that are a little bit more challenging and I bring up the question of shorter rods are gonna be the tight streams that have more coverage and that kind of thing. So I just came back from a show also in Georgia. So the timing is good because the question was on our blog, but this entire weekend I was talking to people about fishing very, very tight streams. Most of the people that came to the show, even though the show was in Atlanta, most of the people that we talked to seem to fish the very tight streams in north Georgia, maybe in South Carolina and Tennessee, and they go into these southern Appalachian trails and streams and those I understand there are… I fished a little bit, not in Georgia so far, but in Tennessee and North and South Carolina a little bit. And I have encountered some real, real tight streams, and the same can be said pretty much on any of the streams in lusher parts of the country.

Usually I think of the Appalachian mountains from south to north, they tend to have a lot more of the deciduous trees, a lot more vegetation that covers the top of the stream. And then also in the Pacific Northwest, there are some areas that might have some of that as well. So the entire weekend I had constantly to answer the questions about about the rod lengths. And I understand it because it’s easy to be very skeptical about us suggesting that you can use a long 11, 12-foot rod in a smaller stream. So people kind of usually, a little bit skeptical, a little bit suspicious when I told them that, “Yeah, you can fish the tight streams that you have in north Georgia with some of our longer rods.”

But let’s talk a little bit about rod lengths, and then I’m gonna talk about tactics and techniques that I use for fishing small streams. On average, a tenkara rod is about 12 feet long, as we all know. And in my opinion, there’s really no need to go with a much shorter rod than… Our shortest rod that I’ve developed is eight feet 10 inches that’s shortest length. Even with that, I have a hard time recommending anything that would be fished solely under 10 feet. So the rod that I developed for fishing tighter streams is the Rhodo. I call that the Rhodo for rhododendron, which is usually abundant in some of those very tight streams. The rhododendron tends swallow a lot of flies, and in order to be able to work in streams that have a lot of rhododendron and a lot of coverage overhead, I did see a need to develop a rod that was shorter than the 11-foot rod that we used to have, the Iwana 11-foot.

But, at the same time, I really did not believe somebody was gonna be constantly using a rod under about 10 feet or so. And I wanted to give anglers a rod that could be fished well when the waters open up, as well as when the water got really, really tight and very dense, you know when the streams got very dense. So I had this concept in my mind of making a adjustable rod that would give anglers that are fishing the tightest waters, the short rod, the sub-nine-foot rod that they wanted while retaining the longer lengths that I think is beneficial a lot of times for fishing smaller streams. So the Rhodo can be fished at eight feet 10 inches, nine foot nine, 10 foot six inches.

I consider anything sub-nine foot very, very short already. And you see why in a second when I talk about things that you can do when you’re fishing tighter waters. But with tenkara, I should mention, first of all, because there’s no running line, we have a fixed length of line at the tip of the rod and we have a lot of really good control over the line. We have to ignore… If we come from a western fly fishing background, we have to ignore how we did western fly fishing in tight streams a little bit because it’s a little different.

Instead of pulling an extra couple of feet of line here and there in order to reach a certain area, with a tenkara rod we do wanna use a longer rod and then we can kind of vary the length of line, but we have this fixed length of line. And the big advantage that having the fixed length of line tied to the tip of the rod gives us is that we know exactly where we can cast, how much room we really, really need to get our line out. The other thing too, is that we’re not stripping an extra foot of line here and there, which all of a sudden, let’s say you have 10 foot of line out and you strip an extra two feet, and then the next cast, first few casts worked okay, and the next cast you decided to strip an extra two feet of line from your reel, all of a sudden you’re caught on the trees behind you, but with tenkara we have this fixed length of line, we can get used to how much line we have pretty easily.

And then the other thing too, as I mentioned a little bit early, having that control over the line because we have more rod than line essentially, and lastly, the way that we cast with the tenkara rod usually is a little different, and I’ll talk about casting tactics as well, but most of our casting with the tenkara rod is gonna be very short strokes, we’re not moving at 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock, we’re stopping the rod much sooner. Instead of making this wide arc with a rod tip, we’re just making… Moving a rod just a few degrees angle in front of us. So that’s a little bit about the equipment that we currently use and a few things in terms of what I think are neglect and the need to make even shorter rods.

Now the question that was posed is if we are gonna develop even shorter rods. And my answer was pretty quick, it’s on our blog right now under the questions and answers post, which is pinned to the very top of our blog page, tenkarausa.com/blog. And so you can see the question there and my answer is much shorter than what I’m saying here, but essentially the reason that I’m not interested in developing a rod that’s gonna be shorter than the current eight-foot 10-inch rod is because when we have a longer tenkara rod, we have a few options, we have a lot of options actually in front of us that allow us to get into the tighter spots when we need to, but continue being an effective rod when the waters get a little bit wider.

So for example, first of all, there’s no reel telling you where to hold a tenkara rod, which means that you can hold the rod high up on the handle, you can hold the rod on the blank at the end of the first segment of the rod, or even a little bit higher. So instantly, whenever you need a shorter rod, you just have to “choke up” on the grip, just hold it up higher. So with the Rhodo, for example, the rod is eight feet 10 inches. If you hold the rod at the end of the first segment, which is roughly… Almost two feet long, you’re gonna be effectively fishing the rod at around seven feet long. So all of a sudden with one rod, not only do you have the three lengths that we designed the rod to be fished at, but you also have a fourth length, which is seven feet long, and that to me is an incredibly short rod.

Even when I fished the very tight streams, both in the Appalachian Mountains, but also in Japan too, I’ve fished some very tight waters there, or in high country here in Colorado, over the last eight years, actually almost nine years of fishing with the tenkara rod, I’ve done that maybe a couple of dozen times where I choke up the grip, hold it up higher. It’s not even something that I use all that often, but it’s a really good option, and all of a sudden you can think about the rod, if you have a 12-foot long rod, you hold it up on the end of the first segment, that’s a 10-foot rod, so it’s much shorter. But of course, then there is the, “Okay, what if the water gets even tighter?” I’m talking about these tiny little tunnels that I fish in Pennsylvania or whatever place you’re fishing. But here’s one thing that you can do, and I’ve probably only done this about maybe five or six times in the eight years of fishing, including a lot of very tight waters. Beyond holding the rod at the end of the rod at the first segment, which shortens the rod by almost two feet, you also do have the option to shorten the first segment into your rod.

And usually I do recommend if you’re targeting large fish, that if you do do that, if you hook a fish, try to extend the rod fully so you have the full strength of the rod, but you know typically when you fish in these tightest streams that do require that kind of tactic then you’re probably gonna be fishing smaller fish. And even if you catch a larger fish, the rod… You should be okay, but in any case. So now you’re holding the rod above the first segment essentially, and you choke up one segment, your rod is getting close to four feet shorter than its design length. So the Rhodo, which is our shortest rod, again, eight feet 10 inches, choke up on the grip, you could have a rod that is roughly seven feet long, put a segment inside, you’re looking at a five foot rod, I mean that’s really, really short right there.

So instead of trying to make these rods that are like super, super specialized and all of a sudden I have no versatility, why not just look at a rod that you already have and learn how to use that in a variety of different conditions. To me, I always say something that I try to repeat over and over which is, versatility breeds simplicity. If you have something that’s very, very specialized, you only use that in a very small range of conditions and then you have to carry more gear, and you end up with two rods or three rods when you’re gonna go fishing. But if you have a very versatile rod, something that’s gonna give you the ideal length of a tenkara rod and you learn how to use it, the versatility is gonna give you a new level of simplicity.

So instead of carrying a rod for the tightest streams and then one for when it opens it up, you have the option of a rod that is adjustable and then a few different techniques that you can apply to the rod so that you can fish it even shorter, so in some… I don’t think I’m really ever gonna develop a rod that is shorter than a Rhodo at its shortest length. I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do personally. There’s been a lot of arguments in the tenkara community about making even shorter rods and the benefits and whatnot, but I’ve kind of arrived at this place where I’ve fished so many tight waters and have not seen a need for even shorter rods than this.

Now, so that’s about how to use the rod, now let me talk a little bit about casting techniques and a few things to keep in mind as well. So when you do get to tighter waters, keep in mind that… First of all, I’m assuming that you kind of already know a little bit of the basics of casting with a tenkara rod, and you’re moving a rod typically to 12 o’clock on your back cast and forward on your forward cast. Keep in mind that you can shorten that stroke instead of going to the 10 o’clock in front of you, essentially, to 12 o’clock, you can kinda do your cast more like in front of you, so you can go to, let’s say, starting 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock in front of you, kind of at an angle and you barely moved the rod up, just a few inches on your handle, like three inches and stop at around 11 o’clock almost in front of you, and the line is not gonna go quite as high up.

And you also do that very quickly, so if you let the line kind of stretch above you, you might get caught on trees, but if you move it very quickly, then you can have less line fly in the air and getting caught on things. The other thing too, that I do like to mention is when I’m fishing very tight streams, one of the things that I really like to do is to pair any of the tenkara rods really with a line that is shorter than the rod. So this is a tactic that I haven’t talked that much or a rig that I haven’t talked a whole lot in the past, but I have written a little bit about it. And when I’m talking about using a line that is shorter than a rod, what I mean is essentially ending with your line pretty much right on top of your handle, so, let’s say I’m using a 12-foot rod, I might have about, let’s say, nine feet of line roughly, and then three feet of tippet, in those cases, I don’t need as much tippet because I’m not putting in any line in the water and that kind of thing.

And then the fly is gonna be pretty much right in again the handle of the rod where I can go even a little bit shorter, so try that combination if you’re fishing very, very tight streams, try a line that is shorter than a rod even by a couple of feet because, what that allows you to do is almost not cast, that’s where the dapping technique can kinda come in really handy instead of having to move the line much, you can just kind of lower it at a fairly good distance. So sometimes actually, when I’m fishing near Boulder here, I’m very often carrying my 13-foot long rod, the Ito, which can be also fished at 14 feet seven inches, and when I do get up to the higher country above Boulder, I might just tie a line that is roughly… I’m thinking like nine feet long, plus three feet of tippet and then… The fly is gonna end above the handle a little bit, and I can lower my fly very effectively where I want to, and that kind of thing.

Doesn’t work quite as well to use a very long rod when you have super tight canopy, because when you catch a fish you have to just be very, very careful not to get the tip of the rod, but at the same time, you can always use those tactics that I mentioned earlier of holding a rod above the handle, maybe collapsing a segment to bring the fish in and so forth. So that’s another thing to keep in mind.

Let me talk a little bit more about casting. Keep in mind that when I usually talk about casting, we talk about an overhead cast, which is the going up straight in front of you, stopping roughly at 12 o’clock and then going forward. Keep in mind, you can keep the tip of the rod pretty much in any kind of angle to get the best cast. So if there’s a fair amount of coverage overhead and you don’t wanna toss your line above you and that kinda thing, you can always do side-arm casting, keep the line above the water, so you kinda cast the line making the fly go downstream first, and then you’re essentially your forward cast, you’re shooting the fly upstream into your targets. That can be very effective and it makes it so you don’t need almost any clearance to cast because you’re not making the line move. You just have to be aware of the length of the rod in those cases. Or look for openings if there’s an opening over the shoulder or the other, you can cast into those as well, and again, making a stroke of the cast very short and also a very quick cast.

And lastly, the other kind of casting technique that you can use, and I hardly ever use this, to be honest, but I’ve done it maybe a dozen times in the last few years, is the bow-and-arrow cast where you’re gonna be grabbing the line and you wanna grab your main tenkara line as opposed to the tippet or the fly because then those… If you grab the fly or the tippet, you might get snagged on your finger. So you’re gonna grab the tenkara line, pull it so that the tip of the rod, pull it towards you so that the tip of the rod is gonna be banding, aim the rod by essentially aiming your handle at your target and then release it like a slingshot. So it’s called a slingshot cast or the bow-and-arrow cast. Joe Humphreys who fishes a lot up in a very tight streams, he really popularized that technique, there are some great videos of him doing that little technique as well, and I think it works great with a tenkara rod when a situation calls for it. I don’t use it a whole lot, but it does come in handy once in a while.

So when I’m talking about casting, of course, I’m assuming that we have just enough room to at least move the rod above. I just need about 12 foot of space above my head to bring a tenkara rod that is 12 feet long when I do catch a fish, or I can just hang with the rod where there are the openings and that kinda thing. That doesn’t of course address the issue of, “Okay, what if I don’t have 12 feet?” Well, it’s like if you have eight foot 10 inches, you can use the Rhodo in a full extension. And there are some sections of a very, very tight streams that there might not be quite nine-foot of clearance above my head, but as in a stream as a whole, that’s kinda rare.

Usually, there might be a little section here and there, even the waters that I fish really close to my home here, which tend to be a little bit more open, there are gonna be sections where there’s just no clearance overhead, and usually what I do is I position myself upstream or downstream so that I do have the clearance to bring the fish in, but again, just going back to what I mentioned earlier, if you don’t have the nine-foot clearance, just kind of hold the rod above the handle, choke up one segment if you need to. And the other thing too, get on your knees. If you’re standing tall, and I’m assuming if you’re fishing those tightest waters, you’re gonna nail this, but if you’re standing tall, you’re gonna need more clearance, but if you just get down very low, you don’t need quite as much clearance to bring a fish in.

A couple of times I have been kinda caught, perhaps a little bit unaware in a stream section that got a little tighter and maybe I had a longer rod, and all of a sudden… I’m focused on the fishing, I’m focused on the fish that I wanna catch, and I forget to look up and see, “Okay, what’s gonna happen if I do catch a fish?” So I make this very difficult presentation, very difficult casts, and all the sudden I start angling the rod back, and as I go, “Oh shoot, I’m gonna touch the tip of my rod onto those branches.” So very quickly, what I’ve done in those cases is put my grip up, perhaps get lower on my knee, and perhaps even choke up one segment as if I was, as I mentioned earlier, as I’m playing the fish and then the only difference is that I’m gonna have to grab the line and hand line the fish in a little bit more. But in any case, I suspect I might talk about shorter rods again in some point in future, but these are the tactics that you can keep in mind when you’re fishing very tight streams, very tight waters, choke up on a grip, put a segment in, be aware of the trees around you, get down on your knees to fish and have a shorter line than your rod length.

And all of those things pretty much make it so that you can fish anywhere you want, pretty much with any of the rods. And in terms of our mission as well, versatility breeds simplicity, I always like to mention, get the longest rod that you can for the streams that you’re gonna be fishing the most. So if most of the waters you’re gonna be fishing are open, get a 12-foot long rod, and then when you do decide that you wanna fish some tighter waters around you use those techniques that I mentioned. If you’re fishing very, very tight waters, get the Rhodo eight foot 10-inches, then you can fish in as short as five feet with what I mentioned. So yeah, I’m not gonna make a shorter rod any time soon that I can think of. And hopefully, those tips will help you next time you go fishing.

If you have any real concerns, if you have run into situations where you really didn’t think you could even use the Rhodo, perhaps you didn’t use one of the techniques that I mentioned, but perhaps you tried those, but if you do have any questions or any situations that you’ve run into that these things don’t work, I’d really love to hear it. If you go to tenkarausa.com/podcast and you look up this episode, Small Streams Tight Waters, leave me a comment in there, or contact us on Facebook or whatever other way. I’d love to hear if you have certain sources of frustration when fishing the tightest waters. And perhaps you have some tips on your own as well that you’d like to share with the audience and you can leave those as well. But that’s it for my episode today, just some thoughts about fishing tight waters as I’m thinking about those of you in the tightest of streams in the country.

Alright, thanks so much for listening to another episode of Tenkara Cast. Go to our website tenkarausa.com/podcast for more information, and leave us a comment. And I’ll see you next time on the next episode of the Tenkara Cast. Thanks.

As always, I’d like to thank our friend Nick Ogawa Takenobu. You can find his music at takenobumusic.com. I’ll put a link on our website. This is a song called “Fishing,” I think very appropriate, it’s a song that made me learn about his work and totally fell in love with his music ever since. Thank him for letting us share his music here on the podcast. Take a look, he’s got four beautiful albums on his website so enjoy the rest of the song and listen to it on your next drive when you go fishing.

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3 Responses to Fishing Small Streams and Tight Waters

  1. Gary says:

    Thanks for this podcast on small streams. It was very informative and gave some great options when using the Rhodo rod.

  2. John says:

    Thanks for the info! I’m planning a brookie trip in the Smokies so those techniques will come in handy. You answered questions I had about choking up on the rod and also telescoping the rod shorter or longer as needed.

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