Tenkara is a mountain stream method of fly-fishing, that uses a tenkara rod, line and fly. But, the tenkara rod is also a tool that people all over the world are now using in their own unique way, such as in salt water.
To learn more about how people are using tenkara rods, Daniel visited the coast of Maine to fish with Henry Barber, a renowned rock climber who has been using Tenkara USA rods for catching striped bass on the surf, in coastal rivers and from rocks on the coast. After a couple of days of fishing, they sat down by a fire and discussed the experience.
And, in the second part of the episode Daniel has a conversation with Nicole Silk, president of the River Network, to learn more about what this cool non-profit has been doing to help protect and restore our rivers.
DG: Hello everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the Tenkara Cast. Thanks so much for joining me. My name is Daniel, I’m your host and I’m very late. My apologies, but hopefully it’s better late than never. But my apologies for not publishing this episode earlier. I’ve been trying to be very consistent with a monthly podcast, and I should probably establish a date when the monthly podcast episode is gonna drop, but it’s been a little over a month now. This particular episode has been on my to-do list, on my publish list for a few weeks actually, and I’ve just not been able to get around to it. Just the short story behind it, we’ve had a couple of moves. We moved to one larger warehouse facility. I was excited to get there, but I realized it was not gonna work. And pretty quickly, within a month, we had to move, or a little over a month, we had to move a second time. So that, it was a little bit of a bummer, but we wanted to make sure that we get in the right facility to help fulfill orders, especially ahead of the holidays. So, we’re now all set. We’re just finished integrating the new systems and totally got our product received and everything is running smoothly, so I’m very happy about that.
DG: Very quickly, I’m gonna give you a little preview of the episodes that, or the episode that we have here today and I’m gonna give you a couple of updates as well, on my end. But today I’m gonna have an episode where I talk to Henry Barber about using tenkara rods in saltwater. You know, kinda give a little bit more introduction to that topic in a second. But Henry Barber… If you’re a climber, you might have heard his name. Very, very famous climber from the 1970s. Done a lot of free solo, absolutely stunning free solo ascents, and he is a very dedicated fly angler. When I visited his house, probably as many photos, there was as many photos of climbing as there were of fishing. And he’s been using our rods for a number of years out on the coast of New England, catching little stripers and some big stripers with our rods. So I went there and visited him, sat down and we talked about it.
DG: And then the second part of the episode is highlighting some of the work of nonprofits that we are excited about. Mostly I’ve been covering Trout Unlimited, but I decided there’ll be time to talk to some of the other nonprofits that we support. And I’m very excited about the conversation that I had with Nicole Silk of the River Network. The River Network is a new organization… Or it’s an organization that I recently found out about, and I really wish I had known more about them years ago. They’re a… I’m very excited about the work that they’re doing, just in terms of leadership in the river space, river conservation space. They do beautiful work, and Nicole and I sat down to talk about what they do.
DG: But before I kinda get into the particulars of those two conversations, a couple little updates. So first of all, we have, talking about consistency and being, trying to kinda have a cadence to something. We do have a new publication that we’re pushing out every single month. We just started on October 10th. We have a written or an e-zine that we’re gonna be publishing and I’m very excited about it, ’cause it’s a beautiful publication, and it’s called mounTEN. It’s spelled M-O-U-N-T-E-N, and you can find that on our blog, at TenkaraUSA.com/blog. Or if you go to this podcast page, I’m definitely gonna be putting a link to it. But what mounTEN is, as the name implies, it kind of has a little bit of a mountain feel to it, that’s where tenkara comes from, even though things, different things might be covered, but that’s the spirit that we wanna capture there.
DG: And what it is, it’s gonna be 10 spreads, it’s a free publication by the way, a free e-zine that you can download and you can read on your laptop, on your iPad and so forth. But it’s gonna be 10 beautiful spreads, typically about five stories, beautifully illustrated by our own, very own artist, Jeremy Shellhorn. He’s already done some terrific work for upcoming issues.
DG: And part of the purpose behind mounTEN is to bring some of the best content that we’ve had over last 10 years to the forefront. There is gonna be some new content as well, but partly in the first few issues we’re kind of focused on bringing some of the content that maybe has been under your radar, or maybe it’s been 10 years that you’ve read about something that we have written. We’ve covered a ton of stuff in the last 10 years, and we wanna bring some of the best stories, some of the best information out to the forefront in this new format. MounTEN, 10 spreads, it’s gonna come out on the 10th day of every month. So, the first one came out October 10th, the next one is about to drop in a few days on November 10th. And the very last page, kind of as a lot of people enjoy with certain publications, we do have our very own comic series that we are developing and that’s actually called Up Tenkara Creek.
DG: It’s a black and white page where you can download and color, and so if you have kids or if you enjoy coloring pages yourself, you can download that, print it out, color it to your liking. We’d love to see that by the way, if you or your little ones do color in the lines, or outside the lines, we’d like to see that.
DG: And the Up Tenkara Creek of course a little play on a famous phrase Up Shit Creek. It’s not gonna be something that is taken super seriously, but part of the purpose of that is to kinda share of the cool little facets of tenkara in just a really fun, beautiful way.
DG: So definitely check out MounTEN, a very exciting publication. The first one we had all kinds of cool stories. There was a little piece about TJ, about eating trout, which he doesn’t really do. There was the Up Tenkara Creek, just kinda talks about the… Where does the word tenkara come from and that kind of thing. So check it out and look for the next issue about to drop in a few days on the 10th.
DG: In terms of other updates, just a little heads up, as has been customary in our company, we do not do sales. We really try to keep our prices as good as we can year round with one exception, we have our… What in the past, we’ve been calling “opt outside” sale and that’s the only sale that we do every year. So that’s something that some of you might be expecting, some of you may be not aware of it, and if you’re hearing little click clacks, that’s my dog that just walked into the room. But in, any case we’re gonna have our sale coming up, and it’s a week-long sale, so we don’t wanna make you sit at home on a Black Friday. We’d like to actually give you an opportunity to get some very good discount on tenkara rods that you can actually use on your Thanksgiving weekend, if you can.
DG: So, the sale is gonna start on November 19th, and that’s a Monday. So if you order that in a lot of parts of the country, you can get it within a couple of days if you, of course, expedite shipping, you can get it before the Thanksgiving holiday, and it’s gonna run from November 19th through November 26th, which is cyber Monday. So, definitely keep an eye out for our sale. It’s gonna start on the 19th of November and a little bit differently from previous years, we’re actually gonna have a discounted price on all of the rods. The prices are a surprise. You’re gonna have to wait until the sale kinda drops. They’re really good pricing on the tenkara rods that we produce, at Tenkara USA, and that includes every single rod like the Sato, the Rhodo, the Ito, the Hane, the Amago, and the Iwana. So they’re all gonna be on sale this year.
DG: And I’m also throwing my book in the sale for half off. So the book is something I just wanna make sure… Anybody getting a tenkara rod, if you’re getting one for a friend of yours, get a book as well ’cause that’s just a good resource for you or somebody else to have with them. And I don’t wanna have the rods out there without good information. I wanna make sure the information gets there. So I’m putting my book on sale this time as well.
DG: And of course, our dealers are gonna be… They have the choice of course, to match the sale, but yeah, a lot of them in previous years have participated as well. So you can check out our retailers close to you, if you go to TenkaraUSA.com/dealer, you can find out where they are, and go visit them, see the rods for yourself if you don’t have one already.
DG: So, I think that’s mostly what I wanted to cover, and that’s all the notes that I made that I… Things that I wanted to touch on. So I’m gonna introduce the next couple of topics really quick and talk a little bit about my experience, especially on the first topic. So the first part of the episode today, I’m gonna be talking to Henry Barber about fly fishing with tenkara rods in salt water. So Henry… I’ve known Henry for a few years. He is somebody that is kind of an idol of mine. He’s a big name in rock climbing, he’s put up some of the boldest climbs in the word actually. He used to travel a ton. You can find a lot of information about Henry and his climbing if that’s something of interest to you. And I got to meet him through a mutual friend, Malcom Daly, as he also mentions.
DG: And one of the things that intrigued me was that Henry was using our rods, our tenkara rods to catch fish in salt water, specifically Striped Bass. And he spends his time between Maine and New Hampshire. He sent me a couple of photos over the last few years of catching Striped Bass on our rods, some pretty good sized ones, including. And every year he was like, “Oh yeah, you should come up. You have to come in this particular tides. That’s when the fishing’s gonna be good.” So I ran into Henry a few months ago, at an outdoor retailer here in Denver and here’s how much of a fly angler he is. A devoted fly angler. He is like… He pulls up his notebook and he has all the good tides that he wants to fish at for the year. So he actually told me when I met with him that he plans the tides a year in advance so that he is not gonna go away from Maine during those weeks. Usually it’s a week-long when you have a full or new moon and that kind of thing, he does not leave the state. He wants to stay there for the good fishing.
DG: So I ran into him, and he’s like, “You know, if you wanna come fish and try your hand on salt water tenkara, you should come on this day.” And I was like, “Oh you know, when else am I gonna have a chance to fish and potentially climb with Henry Barber?” So I booked myself some flights. I almost canceled on that ’cause of the move that I was mentioning, but I went there, brought some climbing gear along, brought some fishing gear along. We ended up not doing any climbing because of the rain, but we had a great time fishing for Striped Bass. And before I get any further, I know some of you might kinda getting… Saying, “That’s not tenkara” and what not. And Henry and I actually talk about that in our conversation.
DG: But I wanna mention a little bit of where I’m coming from, and a little bit my thoughts on that. I’ve done, I think, a couple of episodes of where I talk about what is tenkara, what is not tenkara. So, tenkara of course started in the mountains of Japan. It’s this traditional Japanese method of fly fishing, primarily targeting trout in mountain streams. But as I mentioned in a conversation with Harry, in the end, these are fishing rods. And we call them a tenkara rod because that’s what they are and you can use them in a variety of ways. Just like what I always tell people, whatever you put at the end of your line is completely up to you.
DG: We typically promote more of a mountain stream fly fishing. I think a lot of you who look at our website can see very clearly where we’re coming from, we do have a lot of mountain streams. We believe we have been very clear both in my book as well as throughout years of writing about tenkara, where I’m coming from in terms of like, “Yeah, tenkara is a… It’s a method of fly fishing that has its origins in Japan, and it is traditional and tenkara has a specific look and feel to it, but on the other hand it’s just a rod.
DG: So, in any case, our customers are using our rods in a variety of different ways. I wanted to learn how tenkara could be used in salt water and I learned a ton, a lot of times it didn’t feel very different, to be honest. I was using very heavy flies like some Minnow Clouser kind of heavy flies that would go down, which I don’t do with tenkara but we were keeping it pretty simple. We were not changing flies very often. The fish were a hoot. I actually caught three striped bass, one on a surf. We were fishing early morning one day in the surf and that was one of the strongest fights I’ve ever had in my life. It was not a super large fish, and I’ll share some of the photos on this podcast page. And not a particularly large striped bass probably in the 17-18 inch range but holy cow that was a strong fight.
DG: I’ve caught a fish on the river, right by the coast. That was a really fun one. And I’ve caught a fish in the rocks as well, so I had a really good range of experiences. Not a ton of fish, Henry was expecting a little bit more for whatever reason, we were usually a few of us fishing like three of us or so, but we were not having a whole lot of luck. Enough, I caught one in each location, I learned a ton from it. So that’s a conversation that I’m gonna have with Henry.
DG: And then the second part is gonna be with Nicole Silk, where I talk about the river network. Oh, you know, I do have one more thing I wanna mention to you, sorry about that. I mentioned MounTEN and I think I kinda dropped a little thing in there about, we wanna bring the best writing of the last 10 years to a forefront. So, a little something I wanna share with you. It’s not what I consider to be the super official anniversary for Tenkara USA, but I went to my files and I wanted to look up because I knew it was around this time, I wanted to look up the… One, the actual date for what the date was that I registered my business when I was creating the business, Tenkara USA. And lo and behold, it’s actually next week, that’s gonna be our 10th anniversary of starting the company.
DG: So, November 11th is when I went to the… To the what you call the City Hall in San Francisco, that’s where I lived at the time, and I picked a name, Tenkara USA and registered it and had to do a few other things, got the business up and legit, that’s November 11th. So 10 years, yay. [chuckle] The actual office anniversary that I usually consider is actually April 12, because that’s when I launched the company, we made a sale that first day and that kind of thing, so that was very exciting. But it has been 10 years since I started working on this business and that’s part of the reason MounTEN has come into existence. There’s a lot of cool things that I’m planning for next year. Next year we’re gonna have our 10th anniversary and that’s when we’re gonna have the Tenkara Summit on July 27th. It’s not quite on our anniversary date, but Tenkara Summit, July 27th of 2019, here in Boulder, Colorado, and we’re planning some really fun stuff. So, stay tuned for more information on that, but save the date, that’s gonna be a big one, 10th anniversary party.
DG: Alright, without further ado, let’s get the conversation started with Henry Barber, where he’s gonna share some things about tenkara, using tenkara rods in salt water. And then we move on to the conversation with the River Network. And as always, if you have any comments, any feedback, love to hear it, either through the podcast page on our website, tenkarausa.com/podcast or if you can, let me make this appeal to you, if you haven’t done so, can you please, please, please leave me a review in iTunes? Those reviews help a ton. I’ve actually heard of people finding out about the podcast, ’cause it came up in some feed because of the reviews. So, if you got a, just a quick minute, if you enjoy it, give me a little review and I’ll be so happy for that and I’m gonna make a pledge to you, after this episode, I’m gonna get a cadence where I’m gonna drop these episode of the Tenkara Cast once a month, I’m gonna pick a date, maybe November 20th, or on the 20th of the month, but whatever date I determine, you’re gonna see an episode on that day, every single month, without fail. That’s gonna be my promise for you going forward.
DG: Alright, let’s get our conversation started with Harry Barber. So WD-40 is the secret? [chuckle]
Henry Barber: I haven’t got any WD-40 on my flies, that’s for sure.
HB: I’m trying to be pure.
DG: Not tenkara pure though. So Henry, I wanna talk to you about tenkara in salt water. So tenkara is this method of fishing that was developed in the mountain streams of Japan. And by definition, most people will think of it as a mountain stream kind of fly fishing where you’re fishing for trout. Some of the Japanese masters they’ll define tenkara as fishing in a mountain stream, with a tenkara rod and catching trout. I kinda feel the same way. Tenkara is mountain stream kind of fishing but in the end of it all, tenkara is also a rod, it’s a tenkara rod.
DG: And what I’ve been doing with you the last couple of days is fishing with a tenkara rod for stripers in saltwater. So I wanna talk to you a little bit about that ’cause… And I flew over here to Maine and now New Hampshire because… I don’t know how how long it’s been now but several years ago, you told me about the kind of fishing that you’re doing, which is for stripers on the coast of Maine. And that really intrigued me. And then you sent me a photo of a small stripper and I was like, “Oh, that’s really cool, it’s just one way that our customers are using the rods.” So how did you get introduced to tenkara?
HB: Probably the ultimate ambassador of the sport Malcom Daly.
DG: Yeah, he really is.
HB: Yeah, yeah he’s great. He’s enthusiastic. But I’d like to ask a question first.
HB: What does tenkara mean?
DG: So we don’t know exactly what tenkara means because the way tenkara is written in Japanese they use the Katakana syllabary which is usually used to describe foreign words, or words that even the Japanese don’t exactly know the meaning or onomatopoeias and that kind of thing. So the way it’s written tenkara in Katakana, we don’t know the actual meaning of it, but there’s a bunch of different theories for what tenkara actually means. And there’s one…
DG: My favorite story is that in Japan there was a guy fishing a mountain stream, and he’s catching fish after fish and a passerby goes by, he’s like, “How could you be catching fish after fish without ever having to stop to change your bait?” And this mountain stream angler responds, he’s like, “Well you see at the end of my line here, I have this fly. I used it… It’s an imitation of a fly and I used some thread and feathers, and I wrapped them around a hook and I tied a fly and I cast it and the fish sees the fly coming from heaven. And he takes it.” So in Japanese from heaven is Ten Kara. Ten means Heaven. Kara means from. So my favorite story goes that, this guy casts, the fish sees the fly coming from heaven and the fish takes it, but we don’t know exactly what it means. Once in a while you’ll see a restaurant called Tenkara in Japan ’cause the food is from heaven but yeah, it’s as much as we know about that.
HB: Well, that fits perfectly with what I have to say because I feel like when I put that fly out there, I’m from heaven. I’m not trying to be funny. It’s not that much about that, it’s more about putting these bits of feathers and fur on a hook and knowing where to go to catch and that’s the thing about saltwater fishing. The thing about saltwater fishing is that the ocean is a lot bigger than a stream and so you need to hunt, and you need to have a lot of experience over time to figure out what it is that will make the fish respond. And that’s what I like about it, and I can’t do it in a boat, I have to do it walking. I’ve always done it walking. I fish from a boat, 10% of the time in the tropics or in the cold water. And ultimately, when you’re walking, you have to go get close to a fish and if you’re 70 feet away, which is generous, most fly fishers would say, this massive 60-70 foot cast. Well, that’s generous but where do the fish track it? And the fish track it somewhere out there 30 or 40 feet and they strike it somewhere out there around 20-30 feet.
HB: And the thing that interested me about tenkara is that, I’m a minimalist as a climber, which you can fill in later but I like to get close to the fish, I like to wet wade, I like to swim to the right edge of a trough or a seam. And you use a lot of the same ideas you do in trout fishing only to get a seam and an eddy and figuring out where the fish are holding, and where they’re gonna rise. These fish don’t hold and rise like a trout but they come there to ambush and so you need to figure out where they’re gonna be at a certain time in the tide because that water is always changing, it’s not like a river at a constant pace. It’s more like a dam that releases tail waters, that release water at different stages and you have to figure out what kind of fly you’re gonna put on and where you’re gonna fish in the river.
HB: I like that analogy of Tenkara you say about the feathers on the fly sent from heaven. Because you’re thinking… I’m thinking excuse me, about where I need to go to get close enough to the fish, and there’s nothing better than being close enough to the fish. So that’s kind of why I started to think about catching stripers on a fly and I’ve only caught a 20-inch striper. I’ve caught a number of stripers on a fly. But I’ve only caught a maximum 20-21 inch fish so far…
DG: On tenkara?
HB: On tenkara. So now, it’s time to figure out what the rod… What kind of rod you need to catch the fish, but it’s not gonna be a longer cast and a bigger reel with a bigger drag. It’s gonna be like, “Where can I catch the fish that I normally catch, ones that I like to catch?” I’d like to catch big stripers, but it happens once in a while, so I break a rod, that’s fine, but I know in June, I’m gonna catch mackerel, I’m gonna catch shad, I’m gonna catch brown trout in salt water, and I’m gonna catch stripers, and I might catch an early run of small snapper blue fish. I know I can catch those on tenkara. So it’s more a matter of taking everything I’ve learned from a long rod, fly fishing, to “How can I go to the right places?” And fortunately, most of the right places are close… Close casting places. Unfortunately, some of those close casting places are big fish places.
DG: Well, so we’ll have to see what happens.
HB: We’ll have to see what happens. Yeah.
DG: In the long term. [chuckle] But, I like the fact that… And I should disclose here that I’m not a salt water guy at all. I grew up close to the coast in Brazil and my dad used to do a lot of surf fishing, a lot of saltwater fishing. And I used to go surfing, so I never really learned the nuances of fly fishing in salt water. And I’ve been learning a ton from you in the last couple of days. So, I wanna disclose that ’cause this episode and the podcast is also about me learning more about how to fish with tenkara in salt water. But I should mention that I appreciate the fact that you didn’t dismiss tenkara. Because a lot of people if they’re fishing salt water, if they’re catching large fish species, they will immediately look at the limitations of tenkara. And it doesn’t seem to me like you focused on the limitations. It seems to me like you focused on maybe the fun of it or the new challenge. So why is it that you didn’t dismiss it as something that’s not ideal for what you do ’cause you… How long have you been fly fishing now with a fly rod here on the coast of Maine and New Hampshire?
HB: Over 30 years… I’ve been fishing over 30 years with a fly rod, but I like to fish the rod that’s appropriate with the season. So, I fish a six weight in June, I fish an eight weight most of the year and then I fish a nine weight when I fish in the surf and the rocks later in the season. Either when the waves are bigger, the fish might be bigger. And… I don’t know, I fish more and more just a seven or an eight weight, but mainly an eight weight. That’s what I… It’s just easiest to do.
HB: But what’s really interesting is that when I got into tenkara a couple of years ago, I worried about how big a fish I would catch and now I’m really more worried about… Not worried, excuse me. Now I’m more interested in how the rod performs like a reel, because the rod bends so much that the rod fights the fish instead of the reel. And people put so much emphasis on the reel and the drag and all these different things. I caught a couple of fish on tenkara and then I went back to a six weight I had with a reel, with no drag… A loop reel with no drag actually, and I had to palm the reel to catch the fish. And I realized that somewhere in there, I have to trust the rod more to do the work than the reel. And that made it really… ‘Cause this was three years ago, that’s the first time I caught… Two years ago. Excuse me, the first time I caught stripers on a tenkara were two years ago.
HB: And it occurred to me that we hear about the rod, we hear about the reel, and we hear about all the stuff, but really simply, the rod is doing some really interesting things and fighting the fish. So I start thinking about it differently and now I’m not so worried about how big the fish is. I’m more interested in the type of water I catch the fish in and if I catch the fish in foam, on big rocks, I have a chance of landing it. I have to be more cunning with the waves. If I catch the fish in a stream, I have to catch it in a place where I can be close to it, but I need to back it out. I have to use the current to my advantage, not the fish’s advantage. It’s a completely different way of thinking. It’s so interesting, and the way I know I can catch a big fish on tenkara, I’m positive… Big, like 30-40 inches, is in the float tube. And that’s the place I’m really interested in pursuing.
HB: And the problem… The only problem with it is, is that I can only do it in June, in where I live in Maine, mainly because boat traffic and because the fish are on the surface, they’re hitting cinder worms, they’re hitting different kinds of eels and things like that. They’re on the surface, they’re not down deep. The water’s cold, they’re up top. As the season goes on and water gets warmer, the fish go deeper and you need to get deeper to them and it’s a June thing, but I’m positive you can catch a big striper.
DG: Let’s back track a little bit, let’s talk about, if you can, can you paint a picture for our listeners. What kinds of waters have we fished the last couple of days? Because of course, when we talk about salt water, people might be wondering, “Okay, what kind of salt? Surf, or what is it?” Can you describe a little bit of a picture of what kinds of waters we fished? ‘Cause we fished a lot of… A big variety of waters in my opinion.
DG: Kinda ran the gamut really.
HB: Oh, we fished three. We have four main types of water. We have rivers. We read seams and rips and eddies. We have surf, we have to read the beach contour and the surf and how the current is coming out or flowing on the waves breaking maybe from a stream. We fish rocks, which is a completely different dynamic in a number of ways because of where the fish hold is in really horrible water. I mean if you think, you’re gonna die. [laughter] The fish love it.
DG: Yes, I can attest to that.
HB: But it has a lot of foam and the take is different. The flies, they’re different, everything’s different. And then, we fish… One area that we didn’t fish is in the flats. And the flats is like your classic bonefishing-type situation. And we were hoping to fish that but we’re not gonna get to ’cause we… We don’t… We had a bad storm move in. And we had bad light for the last two days of our trip. But in the flats fishing, it’s on the one hand, it’s perfect for tenkara because if you can see a fish 70 feet away, it’s gonna take between 30 and 45 feet. So if you can cast at 30 feet, you just have to wait for them to get there and twitch it. And it’s not a strip, strip. It’s a twitch because it’s the puff of sand that tantalizes the fish. It’s a baby flounder. It’s a crab burrowing in. It’s a sand lance burrowing… Like I showed you the other day, they’re burying themselves into the sand.
HB: So it’s the puff, puff, that it’s perfect twitch. And it’s exciting. And one thing that’s kind of exciting about it is… Is that, to me, is that if you see a bigger fish with tenkara. You would draw the rod to the side, and they’re like bowling pins. The fish come at you like bowling pins. So if you draw that rod to the side, you might get a second or third largest fish back two or three rows. So I’m sorry we didn’t get to do that, but it’s very exciting. And the most exciting thing for me is whether we’re gonna have a catastrophic event because when those fish are in eight to 14, 18, 20 inches of water, they fight a lot harder than they do when they’re in six to eight feet of water. So it’s gonna be interesting how… I’ve never caught a… I’ve caught a fish in all the things, all the examples I explained but not on the flats and not in a float tube. And that’s… The float tube is what I’m gonna be most excited about next year.
DG: So why, since you have so much experience using a, what I’ll call, western fly rod with a reel. Why would you at this point be so willing to fish with tenkara as well, instead of just sticking with the rod and reel. Do you see some advantages? Do you… What do you like about it? Why is it appealing to you? And here he is lighting a cigar again. The cigar went off. So just a little play-by-play description here. [laughter]
HB: Yeah. Well, the thing that it’s most exciting is that what I do well is I get close to the fish. So when I’m on the rocks, I could be like six or eight feet from the fish doing a simple roll cast. In one minute, here’s one strip, rod tip up, kind of nymphing, letting the rod to go out, hanging out line, letting the fly pull with the current, and strip, strip like a streamer. So that motion with a 9-foot 8-weight fly rod is like classic, what you might do with a 10 to 14-foot tenkara rod. And unfortunately or fortunately, the hits are different. The hits are radically different. It could be a soft touch on a big fish to a bang on a short… On a small fish or a shorter fish. When you have to translate that to tenkara, which isn’t my interest actually, but it’s radically different so it’s very interesting. And it tells me, I should maybe switch to… From a small bait fish like a bunker, we call ’em a peanut bunker.
HB: In the fall where sand yield to a crab because a crab swims more like a tenkara sweep of the rod than a strip, strip, strip, which you can’t do with a tenkara rod. You’re twitching it to the side, so it’s kind of learning something new. And that’s what’s really interesting. But what’s more interesting even is that, when you’re closer to the fish, you might see it. When you’re with a long rod, I mean if I cast 60 or 70 feet, which is not bragging, it’s just your off…
HB: You’re up higher on rocks or you take a favorable position on the sand bar, you’re searching with the rod. And when you’re with tenkara, you’re searching with your eyes to get closer to that place. And that’s what I’ve been doing all along. But the intimacy is more important because you need to be closer ’cause you’re not gonna make a 70-foot cast with a tenkara or a to have to retrieve the rod, have retrieve the line. It’s very interesting to… It’s not minimalist about equipment. It’s more discipline about honing, your skills, to what you already know. That’s what’s really cool about it.
DG: Have you found limitations of tenkara? I mean these are self-imposed limitations you know, you can’t all of a sudden cast 60 feet when you’re out or you can’t pay out line when you catch a fish. Have you found those limitations to be, very limiting? Or have you found to be at a big disadvantage when you use your tenkara rod in salt water?
HB: Well, I find two things. I find, number one, there’s certain places that I’m not gonna go fish, because, I’ve known them for 20 or 30 years and I don’t think I can reach where I wanna go, and I know I don’t have to change my attitude about that because I know where the fish are gonna be, but the converse is, is really cool, is when you’re in the surf, and you’re in rock situations, you gotta get close to ’em, and it’s full-metal jacket, you are in it, you are completely enveloped with water.
HB: I mean, the other day I got pasted a number of times and you gotta gauge your timing with the waves and everything else. But I see guys out there with spey rods doing the same things. They’re out there getting blasted, putting the line out there 100 feet and the fish are 15 to 18 feet from them. They’re not that far away, but people like that, I like that, I like you know, it’s like, I don’t wade with waders, I wade with shorts. And I can wade until October. As long as air temp and the wind isn’t too high, but the water’s fine, it’s worse in May and June. So I like getting close to the fish, that’s the whole thing. If you were a hunter and you were going after a specific species of animal with a bow, you would get close to the animal and you would do everything you could. So that’s kind of really appealing.
DG: Well, and I should say…
HB: And you don’t nymph. People catch a lot of fish nymphing. They don’t… You don’t nymph from 70 feet away, you nymph in a range from your body out four feet maybe to 12 or 18 or 20 feet away, and you catch big fish and you catch a nice 20-inch trout in fast water, and it’s pretty exciting. These fish are… They’re maybe not even as exciting as those fish but they’re… It’s how you can connect with them. It’s not like connect… It’s not like I wanna have a relationship with them, I just wanna connect. That means the hook, gets hooked.
DG: And you wanna feel the tug.
HB: I wanna feel the tug.
DG: And I should describe my experience, So in the last couple of days, we had fished… We started off in a river, that was right on the mouth of a river going into the ocean and that was kind of slow. You were using a reel. Your friend Larry, was also using a rod and reel. I was using tenkara. We kinda had the same fly, none of us had any luck on the river. So we decided to move down to the surf where river met the ocean. And over there, we saw a couple of bait balls and you hooked into one fish. It was the one… I was next to you. I didn’t hook into any fish there, but then from there, the next day, we…
DG: Oh actually, from there we moved to the rocks and in the rocks, you also had your rod and reel. So did Larry. And I think, each one of us caught one fish. So that was my first striper ever. I had done a little bit of saltwater fishing before, visiting my family in Brazil and he showed me this hole where the waves would kind of come in over the rocks and as soon as the water came in, he told me to cast the fly into where the water’s coming in and over the rocks, let the fly sink with the current, and just kind of…
HB: Have the wave drive the fly down.
HB: In foam by the way. And I need to correct you, I did not catch a fish. And for that, you owe me dinner. [laughter]
DG: Oh, you didn’t catch a fish in the…
HB: I showed you where to catch the fish.
DG: Oh, yeah, okay.
HB: I caught the fish in the surf at the mouth, which is much harder by the way, but I did not catch a fish in that hole.
DG: In the rocks, yeah.
HB: And that might cost you, you know, maybe a bottle of Dom Pérignon or a really good cigar.
DG: Oh damn. I don’t know if I signed that contract. I will get you a shot of whiskey. But you know, what I noticed that was interesting on that first day, was that even though you guys had your rod and reel and I had tenkara we were all fishing the same way. I don’t think I ever saw you casting more than probably 30 feet, maybe in one or two casts in the river, but, we really fished in a very similar way and then I hooked into my fish and it was a great fight, it was a very, very strong fish.
DG: And the next day, we started at 5:00 AM, we fished the surf, to begin with. And, you had your rod and reel, but you were fishing, kind of like tenkara and then you hooked into a fish, and you kinda showed me where to cast my fly and I immediately hooked into one so we were double hooked. I actually had to get past your line. I don’t know if you remember that, but, you were fighting a fish, and I had to… I was into the waves farther up into the ocean from you, and I had to kinda walk past, and then I think we hooked another fish a little bit later, into another river.
DG: But you always felt like we were fishing the same way. You never felt like I was watching you fishing with a rod and reel. Did you feel kind of the same way that you could have been doing what you were doing with a tenkara rod essentially?
HB: Not exactly. I felt where I hooked the fish was in the same zone as a tenkara rod, for sure. But at the mouth of the one river, the first place you talked about, I felt like I could see fish out there… Bait fish, bait balls. And I was casting, I was searching with the rod. So now the difference is… There was two other guys in the water in there, trying to cast… Were spinning sand eels like eight inches long, and they weren’t catching anything. But I could see fish. The thing is, is you gotta connect with the environment, and that’s what tenkara does. And where I hooked the fish was in tenkara range, but I don’t know where the fish was. That’s what’s interesting to me now.
HB: What’s interesting to me is, since I know so much about the range between 60 and 40, or 70 and 40, or 60 and 30 feet, where does the fish hit the fly? And I know they hit it. They don’t hit at seven… The number of times they hit it at your maximum cast is less than 3% or 4% or 5%. Whether it’s 50, 60, 70 feet it doesn’t matter, but where they hit it is really interesting. And I agree with you for sure, that the fish hit in tenkara range. But then it’s a matter of how fast does the fly get down to where they are?
HB: And what do you do that’s gonna make a difference? And the other day on the rocks I hit… I caught one fish on a fly rod, I lost a fish on a fly rod, and I caught three fish on a tenkara. Bing, bang, boom. And those fish, the way they were hooked, led me to new ideas about the kind of fly I would use. I’d use more of a crab pattern coming up the face of this edge, this buttress, or this rock drawing. That’s what’s interesting to me, is those fish have been there forever. I’ve fished 20 and 30 and 40 feet past those fish forever, for 30 years. I know where they are now, because now I know where I hooked them. I hook them always with four feet of fly line outside my nine-foot rod, and my nine-foot rod is shorter than tenkara. So it’s really interesting how your perspective changes. Now it’s a matter of how does your retrieve change? ‘Cause I’m gonna get it out there, I’m gonna let the water sweep the line. You can’t… The thing you can’t do, it doesn’t matter if it’s a tenkara or anything else, you can’t sweep bait fish against the pull of the surge, you can’t. Because fish…
DG: That’s not how they swim.
HB: That’s not how they swim. So let your tenkara presentation sweep the way that it would. The same way as you might bend your line, or position your body with a fly line to make the dry fly drift without dragging on the current and causing a wake, you have to do the same thing in vicious water. Because that crab or that bait fish that’s stunned, is being pulled by the surge of the wave, and let the current do the work. And how you hold your rod connect with the fish, make that a solid connection. And I’m not really actually sure what will happen, but I am sure that I’ll learn a lot more about fishing from fishing tenkara. Because I learned a lot more about fishing a conventional fly rod like a nymph in surges of waves against rocks, and in holes.
HB: I showed you the other day when we went back. I pulled you back to the river, and we watched the sand lances dive into the sand. I said, “That’s what those fish are keying into.” And we watched hundreds of them. And you guys couldn’t see them at first, ’cause they were like mirages. That was so weird, to have these things… You’d see like 12, or 20, or 30, and all of a sudden they would disappear.
DG: What do you call them, sand eels?
HB: Sand eels and sand lances, yeah. But that’s… That’s about the fly. So what are you gonna do? What are you gonna do with a rod and a fly? Should you have a light fly on? Is the hook gonna go down and dig the sand, or should I have a Clouser on, and have that thing dive into the sand, and really puff it when you pull it? And what do you do with the strip on a fly rod versus a twitch or a pull with a tenkara, that’s really compelling to the fish? And I believe that if you do… I believe that if you do anything besides chunk bait or spin-cast, you’re gonna learn a lot more about the fish. Because the fish… I can show you how the fish react, and… The reason I can show you that is because I can’t see out 70 feet, but I can see out 20-25 feet.
DG: Tell me about the flies because… So you’re… Of course, we’re using completely different flies and by the way, I’m gonna post some photos of the flies on tenkarausa.com/podcast on the page for this episode. But your approach to the fly selection struck me as not being too far from the tenkara approach as I’ll call it, because you don’t seem to be obsessing over a ton of patterns, you seem to have some few go-to… Maybe a couple of colors. Tell me about the flies that you use with your tenkara rod, or with your rod and reel, the same flies by the way. [chuckle] But tell me about the flies. How did you arrive at those flies? And what kind of flies are you using?
HB: Well I don’t need… I didn’t wanna change my fly selection for tenkara because I trust my flies, and my flies are different than what you buy in a store. And it’s taken a long time to translate the flies that you buy in a store, to what you actually see and experience in the fishing conditions. And fortunately, the rods that are… The rod that I use, the Iwana cast this same weighted Clouser fly, the same as fly rod does. It’s fine. And I don’t end up with a messy cast, it just goes out straight, it works fine. So what’s really important again is trying to get close to the fish. And I wanna do some certain things with the fish that people don’t really maybe think about as much.
HB: I mean, the only place that people have really obsessed about it is with permit-owned fish and they have a million different colors and mainly the gotcha that catches bone fish and some unique patterns here or there and permit with crabs and etcetera. But what’s really interesting about the flies is that you have to think about… I think about the fly more with tenkara because I know black works a lot in whitewater and foam and you don’t see a lot of black striper flies in fly shops.
HB: And I’ve been using them for years. I use black and purple, and black and green, and black black with gold crystal flash in it and what’s interesting about that, I think with tenkara, is I’ve been catching fish on these things for a long time and people are always amazed when I put them on. But the reason they work is because they’re a silhouette in white foam. And the thing about tenkara is, is that in order to cause movement with the fly, you can’t strip straight to the fly which is how we hook up on a fly rod and we let that fly swing in the current. With tenkara you move the fly rod back and twitch it, back and forth and twitch it, and back and forth, twitch it. So it’s swinging with the current to the Eddy line or the dead point of new current. And when you are doing that, that fly is kind of rising ’cause you don’t have an intermediate or a fast sink line, like you would with a fly rod. And so, it’s seeing that silhouette. It’s very interesting, I think it seeing that silhouette, it’s tracking that silhouette especially when it comes up. And then I caught three fish the other day within… I saw ’em all 6-12 inches in the wall and they were all coming up and they thought that… Those fish thought that they were gonna miss that black fly.
DG: And they struck it very hard. [chuckle]
HB: They struck it, yeah, almost in the same place every time, so it’s very interesting to observe something new that you knew worked for a long time, but you didn’t really know why it worked. And again that’s just getting closer to the… To me it’s just getting closer to the thing that you wanna catch.
DG: Tell me about your rig. What is your… Tell me about your rod, your line and your leader, or whatever you’re using, can you describe that?
HB: I don’t know. I havn’t the faintest idea.
HB: Well why don’t you tell me?
DG: You got the idea… ‘Cause you kinda set up your line…
HB: What’s that orange stuff right above it?
DG: Alright. Okay so Harry is using a 12-foot Yamane, so that’s his rod but… And he’s using a few feet of the level line… The orange level line, which is what I was actually using entirely as my line. But what was that like? Maybe seven feet of the orange line?
HB: Yeah I would guess, seven or eight feet.
DG: Seven or eight feet and then what like five…
HB: Four feet of the intermediate sink.
DG: Four feet of intermediate sinking line. And what kind of line is that? Is it a fly line?
HB: It’s like an intermediate sinking fly line, yeah, like you would use for an eight weight rod.
DG: And then did you have some kind of like leader material at the end of that?
HB: I put leader on there, five or six feet. So I’m trying to make a line, a foot or two longer than recommended for the rod length.
DG: Alright then the rod length ’cause I recommend longer lines, by the way. [chuckle]
HB: Yeah. Longer than rod length, yeah.
DG: Longer than the rod. And I’ll describe what I use…
HB: Well it’s certainly longer than the rod length.
DG: Definitely, yeah, which I think is the way to go too. So I used, and this being not my first time, but almost my first time fly fishing in salt, I decided to bring my Ito which is the 13-14 feet seven inch rod. It’s a softer rod and at the end of that, I had roughly 18 feet of 4.5 level level line. And then at the end of that I used four feet of… Did you give me a 12-pound test leader material.
DG: So twelve-pound test leader cause there’s rocks. There’s a lot of abrasion and then my flies. So of course I did not I wanna use a very thin tippet at the end. And so that was the setups that we are both using, by the way. So it kinda goes to show you that there’s different approaches and we caught similar numbers of fish. You caught a little bit more fish than I did but I’ll attribute that’s your 30 years of saltwater experience.
HB: Well, I haven’t caught more fish than you on the strip on tenkara.
DG: No, that’s true. Yeah.
DG: Like similar numbers of fish on overall. So that’s kind like the setup. I think people sometimes get really caught up on what kinda setup to use and what rig. My recommendation just go for a very long rod. So I’m trying to convince Henry to give the a Amago a shot. So I brought him an Amago that maybe tomorrow he’ll use. I think that will be a good rod. 13.5 feet. But of course, he’s getting very close to the fish. So that’s…
HB: We’re gonna be very close to the fish tomorrow.
HB: You are gonna be frightened. I hope. I’m still hoping to frighten you.
DG: Alright, so now I have to ask this Henry. So with you being a famous rock climber, do you see parallels between your climbing and maybe your style of climbing particularly which is very unique and tenkara?
HB: Yeah, but I don’t see parallels between most people’s climbing style and tenkara. So I’d like to focus on that first.
DG: Yeah, I agree with you. [laughter] Most people’s climbing style is more…
HB: Let’s just say in the 1980s. It was all about the BMW 320 and 635, 633s CSI or whatever. And it was about how hard the climb was. And now it’s about how hard the climb is. And it’s not really about how you do the climb. And the thing about climbing is, is that it’s really about how you do the climb. If people don’t really understand that, these guys that are super alpinists are so confident to climb nine and 10 and 12,000 foot roots on 7000 meter peaks with super lightweight gear, they’re confident in their fitness, they’re confident in all of their experience, they’re confident in their partners equipment and they go up there and they do these things super fast and they know when they’re getting sick.
HB: And they know when they’re maxed and they know when they have to be safe. And they don’t rely on more equipment ever, to do those things. And my climbing, I like to do more with less. So I would climb without shoes. I never use cams, I don’t use a harness. I have confidence. I think you should wear a harness. I think you should use cams. I just don’t. And I found that by limiting myself, I got to climb in a lot more countries around the world because I took what I climb with every day. And when you use your same equipment every day and it fits underneath the seat or in the overhead bin of the plane. You’re gonna get to go do it. If you go on a business trip you’re gonna climb it. If you’re gonna carry 50 pounds of shit you’re not going to climb it. And that’s the big difference.
HB: And I’ve enjoyed my life in climbing. I’ve enjoyed my life in fishing but I wanna go with the least amount of stuff and accomplish the most. And I’m still catching more fish and I’m still climbing more places than most people. And I’m not catching the biggest fish and I’m not catching the most fish all the time and I’m not climbing the hardest things for sure. But it’s important to have a marriage between your lifestyle or simple fun. I own 10 fricking wind surfers and I haven’t wind surfed in 15 years. Because I gained weight I never have the right sails. I never had the right skegs. I never had this. I never had that, things will weigh a ton. You have to stick them up on the top of your car.
HB: And you soon out fish your wife or your girlfriend or whatever, because they don’t wanna deal with all the crap. So now we have kiteboarding how wonderful is that? Awesome by the way. Simple, a board and a kite. Not a mask, not a bill, not a skeg, not a dagger board, not the harness, none forget. Simple. And to me the more I simplified my climbing the more I did. And fishing, it’s the same. And I’m not a great fisherman. But I do know the environment that I fish in.
DG: Well, I think that makes you a great fisherman by the way.
DG: I beg to differ. You’re very much in tune with your environment and how to get fish to react to your fly. So yeah, you’re being humble on that side.
HB: Well, I’m not a great fisherman. I mean, I’m not really a great fisherman. But it’s… I live a gratifying life.
DG: You have fun with it. I think you said simplify.
HB: And productive. I’m productive. I’m gonna go out, I don’t wanna go out and just wave a rod around in the air and smoke a cigar and have a glass of really great scotch at the end of an afternoon session of fishing. I want to get up at 4:00/5:00 AM, I want to charge, I wanna be at work by and I want to have caught fish.
DG: Which is almost what we’re doing tomorrow.
HB: Pretty much every day.
HB: It’s hard.
DG: So tell me…
HB: Only problem is in June it’s earlier and September it’s later, so it’s nice. This is gentleman’s fly fishing.
DG: 6:00 AM start tomorrow so that’s not too bad. So what advice, what tips would you give to somebody who’s interested in fishing with a tenkara rod in salt water?
HB: I would pick six flies, you can pick whatever you want and go figure out how to get close to the fish. Simple as that.
DG: Whatever you want for flies.
HB: Whatever you want for flies.
DG: Would you have some suggestions for flies?
HB: Yeah I would. I would have two clousers… No I would have three clousers. I would have a black one, I would have a full bodied white one with some kind of yellow and chartreuse and a black back. And I’d have a really, really thin skinny like you’d use for ragfish or bonefish. Like an inch and a half to two inches, two and a half inches long but really sparse.
DG: Any particular color for that one?
HB: White and chartreuse and brown. But something, really subtle colors. Don’t go for these big flashy chartreuses. I find that the color, in the water, if it’s bright you need to have… I use grays and olives and things. I mean I could go on ’cause it’s like 8 flies or 10 flies or 12 flies, but don’t buy… Don’t just go with what’s in the store, get something that is counter intuitive.
DG: So the rule of thumbs that I’ve gotten from you in the last couple of days have been… Or that’s just what I got of course from my very limited experience, but I’ve only used two flies. You’ve given me a few, but I’ve only used two of those at your suggestion and when we were fishing the rocks, it was a black, mostly black fly. When we were fishing the surf…
HB: But that’s predicated on the whitewater, and not the rocks.
DG: On the whitewater that were on the rocks. Okay, got it. I didn’t get that part earlier. So whitewater over the rocks, use a black fly, little bit of a silhouette. Although when we were fishing the surf, primarily like a light color, whitish fly.
HB: But big surf, a lot of whitewater, black fly. I use a lot of olive and gray with some glints of green or gold Crystal flash. But I try not to make the fly white and chartreuse because the fish miss it in a whitewater.
DG: But the pattern and the size were the same? What kind of size hook was that?
HB: Ones and twos. But it’s easier to cast a one with a tenkara. And generally if I’m wanting to catch a 30 or 40 inch fish I’m going to fish a three or four hook. But I don’t think we’re gonna catch fish…
DG: Yeah, I’m not going after those.
HB: But it makes… But I didn’t finish the other three flies so the other three flies or a deceiver, the one that worked the other day, was a white deceiver, with a blue back. This mimics, at this time of year it mimics a peanut bunker but at different times a year, blue in a blue and black back is a silhouette against the foam. And I actually don’t think it’s a good idea to match the hatch because when we have…
HB: When you’re casting to a hatch in trout, you’re having one in two and 40 and 60 and a hundred flies emerging to the surface and floating on the surface and the trout pick them off. When you’re casting the peanut bunker into sand eel swarms, you’re casting to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of bait fish. So if you have something that’s slightly larger like imagine a mackerel in amongst a bunch of sand eels or a mackerel in amongst a bunch of peanut bunker. The bigger fish will key into that. So don’t think about it as matching the haps, think about it as being just a teeny bit larger.
DG: Which is actually how I approach my fly fishing in tenkara too. A lot of people… I have a funny story by the way. So one time I had just moved to Colorado, and my neighbor Alan had hired a fly fishing guide, a very famous fly fishing guide, and we went through the Colorado River. And we get there, and my neighbor told the guy that I was gonna be using tenkara. He was very skeptic to begin with. And was like, “I’m not sure if that’s gonna work here.” So we get to the water. I set up my line and my rule of thumb is actually just start using whatever fly you have at the end of your line. That’s my first rule.
DG: I don’t wanna spend time switching flies in the beginning of the day, ’cause I’m not sure if that flies is gonna work or not, so might as well start with what I have.
HB: I hope you took off that Griffiths net before you went striper fishing.
DG: Yeah, I did actually. I set up a new line ’cause I… That was my salt water set up, so yeah I broke my rule of thumb. The rule of thumb, cause you know thumbs are meant to be broken, so. But we get to the water, I set up my line. I pull the line out. And I showed the guide this fly that I have at the end of line. And it was a very large fly, size eight hook, tenkara style fly. A reverse tackle fly. And I asked the guy, “Do you think this fly is gonna work okay here?”
DG: He looks at me and he’s very quizzical, he’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t know much about tenkara. But this is a small fly fish. We’re usually using size 18s or 22s.” I was like, “Okay, but I’ll just start with this and see how it goes.” So I go a little bit upstream and the guide and my neighbor are setting up the rod and reel. And I give three casts and I catch my first fish, 16 inch brown trout, I showed it to them and I look at them, they’re still setting up their rod and reel.
DG: Released the fish I go a little bit upstream from there just a few feet. Catch my second fish and I look back they’re still setting up their rod and reel and kinda show it to them really quickly but release it. Little bit later when they’re done setting up the rod and reel. My neighbor came to me he told me that the guy turned to him as soon as I walked upstream, he’s like, “That poor guy, he’s not gonna catch a single fish today because his fly is a size of a hummingbird.” [chuckle]
DG: But my theory is always that the fish are always looking for something a little bit bigger. If you’re trying to find a lot of food, you don’t wanna get just a bunch of little things. You just wanna get a little bit bigger piece of meat, so I think that rule applies well here.
HB: Well, first of all, you’re fishing to train fish oftentimes in a trout stream and that’s why I like the salt because the fish are moving around all the time. They’re not trained, except in the places that we don’t go because you haven’t seen anybody fishing.
DG: That’s true.
HB: We have to go to places that they’re not thrashing the water with these huge plugs and cut bait, dead mackerel and stuff like that. But I think fish do wanna see something slightly different. If there’s a lot of them they’re competing and if they see something compelling. You see it when you look at bone fish and you cast to a bone fish 70 feet away. You cast to a bone fish 60 feet. Bone fish are 70 feet away. General cast and you puff that fly that gotcha whatever. You can see them accelerate.
HB: And you better be real clear that if you can cast to the side a little bit where that bigger bone fish are in the back, you might have a chance at them. But if you’re in the point of that bowling ball formation of a bowling pin formation those little guys are gonna get it every time and you gotta do something different. And we’ve got too much of this matching the hatch business and size eight and 10 and 12 and 14 and 16 flies. And that’s different in the salt. It’s absolutely different. There’s no question.
DG: So maybe one last question for you. So in tenkara over the last eight years, I carry essentially one pattern. There’s three different sizes that I carry, size 18, a size 12 and a size eight. Most of the time I’m using a size eight actually, kinda a large hook. But it’s almost one fly. A couple of different colors maybe, I only have four flies in my box that I fill my box with. Some Japanese tenkara fishermen and this is mountain streams, completely different environment, they’re using one fly pattern regardless. You know, one, same color, same size, same shape. Do you think you could successfully catch enough fish to keep you happy in saltwater with one fly?
HB: I need to get one fly in June and one fly in July, and one fly in August and one fly in September or two. Two in June and two in July and two in August and two in September.
DG: Would that be dark and light?
HB: No, because in June I would fish very skinny flies, very sparse, very thin with mainly white and chartreuse with olive or something. And it would depend on where I was fishing and I definitely would want a black fly for the rocks. But I wanna catch mackerel, shad, strippers, snapper blues and brown trout.
DG: Same fly?
HB: Same fly. And then when I go on the rocks or whitewater I want that much darker fly. And it wouldn’t have to be black but definitely dark olive and gray. And then in July I want that to be a little bit bigger. But definitely in August and September I want them to be bigger. I want them to be four and six inches, I want them to be fuller bodied and I wanna have that same sand eel something black and that bait fish. I’ll just give you an example. This spring when I was coming out of this one river, I saw a fish I hadn’t seen before. It was a herring but it was really scrawny. It was about five to six inches long which I was really surprised. ‘Cause it was mid June and it was white with little lavander-y pinky green blue black. And I tied up a bunch of flies that I’ve never tied before. That were four and a half to five inches long, clousers. And we never changed the fly for the next three weeks. Never…
HB: Not there, not 100 miles away in… Up in the Sheepscot and the Black rivers. And I’ve never used that combination of colors before, but it seemed to satisfy, to answer your question, it seemed to satisfy the black side and the light, white side. So if I had to ch… Now, if I had to change, I will have gone all the way from June to August using the same fly, all the time. And to your point, that would have been my one fly.
DG: Mm-hmm, yeah.
HB: And it caught more fish consistently for three tides, June, July and August.
DG: Nice. Yeah, and I should answer, I’m assuming, some of the listeners are kinda asking a couple of questions. One of them will be, “How do you cast those heavy flies?” And I’ll answer that with thank God I had no problem. I’m using the Ito and I’m actually doing pretty much a tenkara cast, just overhead. And the only difference is that I’m making sure that my backcast is… I’m really feeling the rod loading on the backcast, so the fly stretches out behind me, and then I…
DG: The rod essentially slings the fly forward. Maybe a little bit more open, but it was really not a very different cast ’cause sometimes when I was fishing surf, I’d let the waves kinda carry the fly behind me a little bit, and then water-load my rod, and then just sling it forward. That worked really well, but for the most part just a regular cast. The other question I’m assuming listeners are asking right now is about landing. Some of those larger fish, I think the fish that I caught have been in between the 16 to 18-inch range. The fights were spectacular.
DG: It was really, really strong fish. I would kind of compare it to a 22-inch trout, a strong rainbow trout. But the one that I caught in the surf, it might have been a 16 or so inch fish. 16, 17. That was a very strong fish, I thought it was gonna be way bigger than he was. The rod handled it fine, but it took me a little while to bring it in because what I was doing, I was just using the little swells and the waves to kinda help me bring the fish closer to shallower water. So that’s a couple of my observations there. But…
HB: I think you’d catch the fish faster by bringing the rod sideways. I think the cast first of all, with the heavier fly, you really have to make sure your arc up is to 12 or 1 O’clock, and your forward cast doesn’t go past 10. Don’t reach…
DG: Yeah, absolutely.
HB: Going forward, ’cause when you reach going forward, the heavier flies dump, and that’s when you really need to let the current pull it out. But when the current pulls it out, you’ve missed 8 or 10 feet. And you’re not doing that. I’m not saying you’re doing that, but you can do that if you don’t cast that forward cast, correctly. And the second thing is on the fight… There’s a fine line, I think, and I don’t know what it is ’cause I’m not an expert at tenkara but…
HB: There’s a fine line between letting this fish have its way with you in its environment. And its environment is seaweed which is gonna tangle the line, barnacles which is gonna cut it off, and raging surf. So one minute, the fish is in the foam, and you rule the fish ’cause you can lift it with all the power of the rod, and the next minute you got like 10 tons of… Or 1000… 100,000 gallons of water pulling out and it’s like pulling out a lot faster than a four or five or six knot current. And you have to be prepared, not only about the fish, but to get pulled off your feet.
DG: Yeah. [chuckle]
HB: And so at that point in time, you wanna be really subtle about fight, about catching the fish in the Whitewater and letting… Getting the rod tip up, and down, like nymph fishing and then you’re letting it out. But once you have it, you wanna pull it into the foam. If you can get foam… If you see foam, get the fish into the foam, but don’t let it get into the surge going out because one minute you’ve got a 4-pound fish on, and the next minute you got a 10-pound fish on.
DG: Absolutely, yeah.
HB: And it’s like intense.
DG: Oh, very much, yeah.
HB: And you’re concentrating on the next set of waves coming in, and you’re gonna get hosed. So you’re gonna…
DG: So you probably know the saying in trout fishing, “Foam is home,” ’cause foam is where the food is gonna be and you wanna cast. So I think the same can be said of salt water fishing, “Foam is home,” ’cause that’s where you wanna bring a fish to. [laughter] Yeah, very true. It’s…
HB: Yeah, it’s really tricky. That part of it is the trickiest part about tenkara because the place that you’re gonna have the most excitement and the most, maybe productivity will be close in on the rocks, but it could be the most dangerous and most alluring and the harder to land the fish and the hook up isn’t anywhere near the beginning.
DG: No, no.
HB: The beginning is like… The beginning is when you’re holding it up, taking a picture of it because the rest even getting rid of it, is gonna be something. [chuckle]
DG: That’s true.
HB: And it’s fun, that’s the funnest part.
DG: Yeah, no I had a blast. So, thanks so much Henry for talking to us about salt water fishing with tenkara rods. That’s completely new to me, I’ve been having a blast learning from you. And just an honor to have been invited to come and join you for some fishing here in Maine and New Hampshire. So thanks for your time.
HB: No, you only have one thing left to do. And that’s to come back.
DG: I am looking forward to it. Actually, I’m looking forward to tomorrow first of all, ’cause we have a… Actually we have a day and a half of fishing left so…
HB: Yep. A day and a half left and then you’ll be enticed to come for June…
DG: Yeah, absolutely.
HB: It’s really a June… June, July, September, thing. It’s not a… It’s not like you can catch trout all the time.
HB: You just gotta know the tides, and come and slam!
DG: Sounds good. Thank you.
HB: Okay, and you’re welcome.
DG: Thanks, Henry.
DG: Now a conversation with Nicole Silk from the river network, and I hope you’ll take a minute to check out RiverNetwork.org, to see what they’re doing and I’m also gonna make sure to put a link to their website on Tenkarausa.com/podcast.
DG: Today I’m excited to have here with me Nicole Silk, with the River Network. And this is an organization that I’m really excited about. I started learning more about their mission, how they connect the dots with conservation and stream restoration, and all kinds of projects. And we’re gonna be talking a little bit about what they do. So, Nicole, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your organization?
Nicole Silk: Great, well so it’s super wonderful to be here. I’m glad to have this conversation with you. Yeah, so I’ve been working in the world of water, river conservation and water advocacy for a long time, probably about 25 years, and I’ve been with River Network for a little bit less than five years now. And part of the reason I was really excited to join the team at River Network was because of its focus on local. We empower folks at the local level to do more for their rivers, to get engaged, to connect with us and we provide them with resources, we provide them with access to experts. We have a great annual conference called River Rally. And in my career in conservation I’ve always found that the most sustainable solutions for our rivers are the ones that happen at the local level where there are people there to pay attention to what’s going on with the river. Is it in bad shape? Is it in good shape? They are the ones who sound the alarm when something happens, but there are also the ones to really be passionate about taking care of that place.
DG: And I was really impressed by the reach that you guys have. I think when I first got introduced to your organization I thought it was just gonna be, when you mentioned local, just like this little Boulder organization that maybe looks after Boulder Creek. But once I started learning more, and I got to meet you, I realized that you guys actually have really a very large reach. Tell us a little bit of perhaps a couple of numbers that actually impressed me in terms of what kinds of projects, how many people you guys mobilize, and how you kind of bring them all together?
NS: Absolutely. So our network is now over 6000 strong, and by 6000 strong, I’m talking about organizations that are working at the local level all across the country. So if you can imagine for those of you listening, a map of the United States, that’s filled with that dendritic structure of streams that flow into larger rivers that flow into basins. Across all of those there are non-profit organizations that are at the local level, and we connect them. That’s part of what we do and what we have done for 30 years. So that’s a little bit of the secret of River Network. We’ve been doing this for 30 years. We were formed at a time where a number of leaders and the conservation community were concerned that there was no national organization. That was really there for the grassroots level and that led to the establishment of River Network, 30 years ago.
NS: This is our yearly anniversary and it’s very exciting for us. And yeah, so over time, our work has evolved from helping groups get off the ground to now working with more established groups and helping them expand their work to include engagement with everyone from the boating and the angling community to farmers and ranchers, to how do you connect what’s going on, in the headwater streams all the way down through the cities and then all the way downstream to the ocean.
DG: So tell me about those members in your network, ’cause I think some of our listeners will probably recognize some of the names.
DG: ‘Cause I thought it was an interesting model. You guys are essentially in my view, like a leadership organization that kinda helps really connect the dots for a lot of people and organizations. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the kinds of members that you have. ‘Cause I know you work with Trout Unlimited for example.
NS: We do. We work with Trout Unlimited and their chapters, we consider them members of our network and that listing of over 6000 organizations working at the local level, same for some of the other national organizations that have local chapters or a local presence, including the Nature Conservancy and American Rivers, but there are also really thousands of individual tiny organizations, some of them are friends groups, say Friends Of The Poudre River. Or maybe there’s a group in Washington on the Skagit. Those are all entities that are part of our network, all the way along the line up to some of the statewide organizations and then some of the larger coalitions that are working to bring those smaller groups together for bigger impact.
DG: So one of the things that myself, personally, but also, I think Tenkara USA that we’re very interested in, is trying to inspire people to take direct action.
DG: When it comes to… You know, the places where they’re fishing. If we are extending or opening the doors for people to fly fish, we wanna make sure that we… They’re gonna start caring for the environment, and we kinda wanna show the path of how they can do that, so for example, stream clean-ups are a big thing that we do.
DG: So, tell our listeners a little bit about how you guys bring in the individual to do some direct action work. What kinds of projects and how they can get involved, perhaps?
NS: Well, we always figure that the best advocates for our rivers are going to be those people who are passionate about those places, right. So if you have an opportunity to fall in love with the river because you’re fishing on it, or because you’re a boater, or because, perhaps, it’s flowing through your backyard, that’s great. Not everyone has that privilege. It really is a privilege. But for those of us who do, there’s no better place to begin that journey towards deeper engagement than with those people. So we provide a number of opportunities, through our larger network, for people to get involved and for our companies to make a difference too. We support a series of community engagement events across the country where we’re providing direct opportunities for people to engage, but also some signature programs with companies as diverse as Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola and hopefully, tenkara, and others, who are also thinking about how do they forge that direct relationship with their consumer base to really have more of an important impact, a sustainable impact, on the resources that are so fundamental to their business proposition.
DG: So let’s talk a little bit about stream clean-ups, ’cause that was the topic of our conversation when we met last time. We do only half a dozen clean-ups here in Boulder Creek, very local, but we definitely wanna extend our region, kind of start opening the doors, so that those people who are using our rods, they’re thinking about helping clean-up their stream a little bit. You guys tell me you helped a lot of people get engaged with river clean-ups last year. How many people was that?
NS: Oh, it was actually, let’s see, over 13000 people were involved in the clean-up events that we sponsored over the last year. That’s just over the last year, right. So if you multiply that across numerous years, that’s an awful lot of people for a pretty small organization. And I think there are many, many more opportunities to expand that model now that we know how to do it and we’ve been deploying that model in partnership with both cities and with different companies in different parts of the country. So whether that’s here in Colorado, where our headquarters are now, or in other parts of the country, we have partners through this national network, that we can hook up with companies who care.
DG: Excellent. So what is the best way for our listeners to get involved? It seems to me, I’m real excited about the work that you guys do, and it seems to me a lot of people, once they find out about the kind of work you’re doing, they go to your website, they’re probably gonna get very excited too. So how can people find your organization and how can they get involved?
NS: Well, it’s super easy. You can go to www.RiverNetwork.org. When you go to the main page on our website, you can get to know our network. You can also see this national map that I’m talking about. You can click through it. You can find out who the local organizations are that are near you or are near a stream that you care about. So we wanna provide that direct relationship opportunity for you, but you can also support our work too.
DG: Excellent and I’ll make sure to post a link on this podcast webpage, TenkaraUSA.com/podcast. And one last question, Nicole. So if somebody’s going fishing this weekend or next weekend, what do you think they can do to help with the rivers where they’re fishing?
NS: It’s super easy, I would say. Bring a little bag with you. Just look around the spot where you’re casting your line and see if you can pick up a few things. There’s always either micro-trash or sometimes more macro-trash siting right there next to you. Makes you feel good too. Everyone can make a difference.
DG: Thank you so much for listening to another episode of the Tenkara Cast. I hope you enjoyed this longer format podcast and that it got you to your destination, through the workday, through your hike. However you’re listening to this podcast, I really enjoyed the fact that you are downloading it and listening. If you get a moment, again, please give me a review. I would really enjoy that and I really appreciate it. And as always, I’d especially like to thank Nick Ogawa’ “Takénobu”. You can check out his music, which he lets us use in our videos and his podcast at Takenobumusic.com. Until next time, on the Tenkara Cast.