Tenkara on Yellow Creek

Prior to the trip two days ago it had been a few weeks since I was last on the water. Things have finally settled down weather-wise a little bit. I know rain is a good thing for the most part, but the rain has made spring fishing a bit difficult here in PA (a small inconvenience in the grand scheme of things). Streams have been flowing high – while spirits may have been sagging. Nature has a way of doing her own thing, in spite of our wishes. Most likely With the perspective afforded by time and space, in the late summer, we will look back longingly at this weather and then fold our hands and pray for rain. I have been reminded this spring that if you are a person who stakes his happiness on the whims of weather and bugs and of fish then you are indeed bound to be disappointed a great deal of the time. For these things take no notice of men and if they do occasionally consent to align themselves just so, and provide a sublime day of perfect fishing, do not confuse this with obeisance or even acknowledgement.

The weather was beautiful however, and the stream, Yellow Creek in Bedford County, Pennsylvania was in good shape. Perhaps it was flowing higher and faster than I would have it, but eminently fishable. I’m reminded of a story that I heard. A man was in a diner eating breakfast and he liked to have ample sugar in his morning coffee. Glancing at the sugar shaker he saw that level was getting low. So rather than risk running out he waved the waitress over and asked for more sugar. The waitress looked at the sugar and then said “Honey, before I bring you more sugar you got to stir the sugar that you got.” And so looking at the stream, which was not perfect, I decided to stir the sugar that I had.

I was going tenkara for this trip – which is now my go to small stream mode these days. The rod of choice was the new Iwana Series II 11-ft from Tenkara USA. This is a sweet rod, light and easy to cast. I miss the reach of a 12-ft rod a little, but when fishing under overhanging trees, the 11-ft rod is a little easier to keep out of the branches. Speaking of which, I started fishing tenkara with furled lines but have since switched to level lines. I couldn’t stand the way the furled lines became all hinky after being pulled from an over hanging branch. The line that I had on during this trip was Tenkara USA #3.5 level line. According the T-USA website the #3.5 line is a fluorocarbon line approximately equivalent to 12-lb line. I will say that the clear line can be difficult to get used to. There are two problems with the clear line: 1) it’s hard to see where the line ends and the tippet begins. Therefore it’s hard to know exactly how much tippet is subsurface; 2) it’s just plain hard to see the line. This leads to problems with casting accuracy (if you can’t see your line very well then you don’t know where your cast is hitting the water) and strike detection. I like to watch the portion of my leader where it enters the water for any hesitation that indicates a strike, if I can’t see it i can’t do that. The solution that I used on this trip was to attach an 18″ section of hi-vis yellow mono to the end of my line before the tippet. This solution worked out pretty well. I could see my casts a little better and when I cast I could lift the rod until I saw the yellow and I knew exactly where the tippet began and I could also watch the yellow section for strikes. Well enough of the technical detail…

Bugs were fluttering around the stream – little black stones, black caddis, orange craneflies – but the fish were not in evidence. There were only a few surface rises that I saw. So I went subsurface with a tandem of a soft-hackle dropper and size 16 shop-vac point fly. The shop-vac was the winner. I began picking up fish on the shop-vac right away. I don’t prefer the tenkara set-up for dredging the bottoms of deep pools and runs so I concentrated on the heads of the pools and on the pocket water above. Nice fish came to hand from water that many folks walk past or walk through or stand in to cast to the pools.

I am a pocket water addict. Fishing pocket water is what heaven might be like. The rushing sound of it creates a cozy nest of white noise to compete with the static and rush of the world. Moving along step by step, each step a challenge in the current and the ankle breaking rocks, each step a tactical decision and a small victory. Pocket water is full of possibilities, the fish can be anywhere. The water is so full of soft-spots where a fish can sit and wait and then tilt a fin, move a few inches and suck a bug in. And the depth is nice too – not too deep, not too shallow. A well-fished size 16 bead head sinks nicely and doesn’t snag up too often, but gets deep enough to matter. Add to the pocket water a tenkara rod and now you’ve got it made.

The shop-vac has been a good producer for me this spring. I’ve used it here on Yellow Creek and on Spring Creek with good results. It makes a nice tenkara fly in my opinion. It is not too heavy, but just heavy enough and the slim profile sinks quickly (especially when powered in with a nice tuck cast). The white antron tuft is, I believe, a great attraction to the fish. I like to tie them both with and without tails. I believe the shop-vac was created by the folks at Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone.

The shop-vac was my magic fly. The problem with magic flies is that they always run out, especially if they’re nymphs. Magic is fleeting and hard to contain. Sometimes we are the aerial that attracts the magic and for a brief time we are the king of the stream, catching fish when nobody else is (no that that matters to us high-brow fly anglers), but then we lose the last magic fly…and then what? The problem for me when a fly is working so well is that when I have run out of that fly I can’t decide what to put on next. I put on this then that then another thing, then panic sets in and I lose all confidence and just go through the motions casting with no heart and no conviction, telling myself that I need to go home and tie more size 16 shop-vacs! And then…finally a fish takes pity and eats another fly, in this case it’s a fly I call the big-fat caddis. I tied them up to match a hideously fat and juicy looking caddis larva that I found on the Yampa at Stagecoach.

I think it looks pretty realistic when wet and a couple of fish thought so too. It’s basically just bunny fur with gold ribbing and a head of dark brown dyed bunny with some hares mask mixed in for legginess. After ribbing with the tinsel rough it up a little.

I don’t really like snakes all that much. This little fellow can swimming down the current in a hair-raising way that snakes have. He hit the bank and immediately climbed a tree. Creepy. So now I need to watch out for snakes, on the bank, in the water and in the trees. Great. It was just a black rat snake – so, not dangerous. But if that thing had come down the stream toward me while I was in the water…well it wouldn’t have been pretty.

I ended the day in the same spot that I started and picked up another on a size 18 black midge pupa. All in all a fun day on the stream. Conditions were not good for traditional tenkara flies – but the western flies stepped in and saved the day. East and west working together.

what say you?