My “One-Fly” – Brown Hackle Peacock
If you have paid any attention to any tenkara discussions you have probably noticed the idea of “one-fly” coming up. Very simply put the idea of “one-fly” fishing is to use basically one fly pattern for all of your fishing – no hatch matching, no changing flies for that deep pool, etc. This method of fishing then is focused on presentation and not fly pattern. And though it is often posed by tenkara anglers these days, the idea of “one-fly” is certainly not unique to tenkara. I imagine there are plenty of old-timers that would scratch their head at this idea as being an “idea” at all. What I mean is prior to the explosion of match the hatch, and even now, there are plenty of folks that fish with a very simple fly selection – perhaps not limiting it to one fly – but three or four patterns anyway, it’s not any “idea” it’s just the way they fish. I can recall times (though not that often) when I watched some old-timer work his way along the stream with a wet-fly swing, regardless of anything else. He was just fishing his wet-fly. No fly switching – just one-fly. When I read Paul Arnold’s book The Wisdom of the Guides – one idea that the fly fishing guides mentioned over and over was the idea of good presentation being more important than fly selection. That is – keep your fly selection simple and focus on technique. This has become a sort of tenkara mantra – though tenkara doesn’t own it. And so I come to the idea of a using one-fly for all of my fishing through tenkara – but it is not something that need be limited to tenkara.
So why do a “one-fly” season? I’d like to say from the get go that this is not about proving anything, tenkara-related or otherwise. I am not really interested in saying that “one-fly” is better than hatch-matching – I think that that line of reasoning is misguided. It is all about fishing in a way that an individual finds enjoyable right? So if someone enjoys hatch-matching, and all that goes with it that is cool with me – I like that too. I have never been a person to compare tenkara and western fly fishing to each other with the goal of declaring a “winner”. They are both fun – they are similar in some ways – and they are different in others – there are pros and cons to each – and in the end it comes down to what floats your boat. I have fished tenkara almost exclusively for my trout fishing and done so with a very simple fly selection the last three seasons, not quite one-fly – but pretty simple usually, especially the past two years. And I have done at least as well as I have ever done. I make no claims at being an expert – or even “accomplished” – so any success is merely based on my own standards. I have not noticed any drop-off in fish catching, and though I haven’t really recorded it – I think I am doing better by keeping it simple. As I get older, and presumably wiser, I realize that I know less than I thought I knew. In fact the idea of knowing facts has become less important to me than understanding things intuitively. Facts and reasons have become somewhat slippery in a way – they don’t seem to contain as much information as I once thought. So the facts and reasons of why to do a one-fly season are elusive to me and maybe illusory. There have been studies done that seem to show that we may have less free-will than we think we do, that we decide to do something before we realize it. I think there’s something to that. I think that often we, or at least I, act first and then come up with the reasons later. So the shortest and best answer as to “why?” is “just because”.
Even though I make no great claims about why I am doing it – I am still interested in what I may learn by doing it. I think that there is potentially a lot to learn by limiting yourself. It is discipline. So maybe at the end of my one-fly season I will have realized some truth about myself and my fishing, or maybe I will have become a better more intuitive angler, or maybe it will be a complete frustration. However it pans out – I will know something new.
Let me add that I do most of my trout fishing in small to medium sized streams, and I have always preferred fishing pocket water and riffles as opposed to deep slow pools. So the small unweighted wet fly fits in with my fishing nicely, it is not a big stretch.
The rules. I guess I should set out a few rules. I am not going to limit myself to one exact fly recipe – but rather to a general pattern. The basic pattern will be based on the Brown Hackle Peacock fly shown above. But, just to keep things a little loose – I’ll mix it up a bit. I’ll change hackle type and hook type and size, throw some loop eye flies in to the mix, some reverse hackles. But none of these changes are meant to match conditions or bugs – just meant to keep it interesting. So basically the fly will be a soft-hackled, peacock body wet-fly. I will not use added weight or bead heads. That’s it.
The one fly season has begun. I’ve managed to get out twice this year as of this writing. So below I present reports from the two trips so far.
One-Fly Season Day 1: March 9, 2013
First trip of 2013. The weather was nice. Upper 40′s , snow on the ground, but melting. This particular stream is very small – no large holes and not a very high gradient, also quite brushy, with plenty of low hanging trees, fly-hungry trees. As you see in the picture – the flow was fairly low. This stream is not typified by large deep plunge pools. The low-gradient, small free-stone, structure creates occasional small plunges with shallow, long pools. In between there are shallow runs with small pockets. These types of small mountain streams can be pretty difficult. The fish aren’t particularly selective – but they are extremely spooky. And those long smooth and shallow pools can make presentation tricky. One flubbed cast to the tail of that pool and you’ll send fish scattering up though the rest of the pool spooking anything else in there. This is a case when long tenkara rod and a light tenkara level-line is very helpful. Very delicate casts can be made with very little line hitting the water, while remaining at a safe distance.
Being the first trip – I was a little clumsy at first. It took a while to get back in fishing form. I was like a clumsy bear, emerging from hibernation hungry. I was hungry to catch fish. And too anxious. I had to tell myself to slow it down. I had a hit right away – but then nothing for a while. Finally though I got my groove on and picked up a few fish. Not great numbers, but enough to keep me happy. Actually one fish would have been enough.
I got the first hit on a size 12 peacock fly with hen pheasant hackle, but then nothing for a while. In the past I surely would have tied on a different fly but I stuck with it until I lost it high in a tree. Next we went to a size 16 Brown Hackle Peacock like the one in the top picture. Several fish came to hand right away. Ahh! I thought it was size! The fish wanted a smaller fly. However, after 3 fish I lost the size 16 in a tree. So I switched to a large reverse hackle (sakasa) fly tied on a blue Japanese bait fishing hook and finished with a red loop-eye. Third cast – bam! A fish came up to the top and smacked the fly before it even had a chance to sink. Of course I lost this fly in a few casts.
What did I learn? It’s too early to draw too many conclusions, and these were wild brookies – not exactly discriminating fish usually. But in the past I probably would have called the size 16 the best fly for the day and stuck with a smaller fly – however on this day – I tied on the next fly in the box which happened to be a much bigger, and slightly different version, and got a fish right away. Not exactly a scientific study – but also maybe not what I expected.
One-Fly Season Day 2: March 15, 2013
Well day two was pretty similar to day one – small stream, snow on the ground, very cold water. The stream was a slightly different kind of stream though. In general a bigger stream, higher canopy (more open casting room), a higher gradient, bigger in-stream rocks and boulders making bigger deeper pools and more nice pockets. I must emphasize that the water was really cold – I didn’t take a temperature reading but it was the kind of cold that makes a dipped hand ache instantly. I wasn’t expecting too much action with the cold water.
I tied on a size 14 Brown Hackle Peacock (as shown in pic at the beginning of the post). I figure I’d try the pockets for a while, just for the heck of it. Nothing. The fish didn’t seem to be hanging in the pockets yet – so on to the bigger slower pools. And that was the ticket. This stream, even though it is small, forms some nice deep pools. I skipped the deepest of these and focused on pools that I could fish more easily with my unweighted fly. I don’t remember exactly, but I think 5 or 6 fish came to hand. All were small wild brookies.
Did I learn anything? I think so. In the past I would have very likely tied on a small bead head fly – or added some split-shot to get deeper into those big pools. But it turns out that it wasn’t necessary. Perhaps I could have caught more fish if I had done so – but I caught enough to keep me happy. And because I wasn’t fiddling with changing flies and adding weight and taking weight off – and because I was focused on a certain type of water, I moved more quickly and got to see more of this new-to-me stream than I would have otherwise. I am looking forward to getting back on this water when the water warms a bit and the fish are more active – it should be good fun.
On the way out I came across some bear tracks – which weren’t there on the way in. There was a big set and at least one small set – so a mama with a cub or two. Pretty cool and a nice way to end the day, following bear tracks back to the car. Apparently I am not the only one in these woods anxious for spring.
Autumn’s here and the fishin’ is…well it can be tough sometimes actually. I got out on a “local” trout stream the other day. By local I mean about 50 miles way. It’s the closest wild trout stream that I know of. It can be a real bear. There is nothing easy about fishing it. The stream is folded into the hillside like a deep crease. To be truthful I have never had a “great” day here. It can be a physically grueling place to fish. It’s just tough to get around with the steep hillsides, dead falls and glacially deposited boulders. The stream gets the best of me most times. With respect to trout bum/poet/writer Richard Brautigan, it is not the kind of stream that can be mistaken for an old lady. It is more likely to be mistaken for a mob enforcer. It will bloody your nose, break your leg and leave you for dead. You’ll lay there wondering why you didn’t tell anyone exactly where you were going, a simple note to the wife maybe would have been a good idea. How far will my voice carry? I wonder. Will I succumb to thirst or will a pack of coyotes get me first? I wish that I’d had a donut instead of oatmeal for my last meal. These are the thoughts that go through my head as I scramble over leg breaking boulders, logs and ledges.
It is a small stream. A typically eastern small freestone stream, and so it gets low in the summer and fall. And on this trip it was still pretty low. And that was a problem. See those long shallow, slow pools in the above pic? They were tough to fish. I went with the 11-ft Tenkara USA Iwana. Perhaps a mistake. Though it’s a small stream – it has a pretty high canopy. A longer rod would probably have been a better choice – maybe even the zooming Tenkara USA Ito (13′ mostly but the 14’7″ zoom level would have even been useable here and there). Next time.
Though there were small fish, I was surprised to see that there were also plenty of bigger fish – but they were not buying what I was selling. At first I wasn’t catching (or even seeing) anything, so I had to take some of my own advice and be stealthier. It can be hard to be patient sometimes. I went to stealth mode. Walking very slowly and softly. I upped it from not seeing fish to seeing “vee-wakes” and occasional glimpses of bigger fish fleeing for their lives. Forget spooking them with a cast, I couldn’t even get near the stream.
Maybe it was just me on this particular day. Maybe it was the alignment of the stars and bad karma. But I couldn’t get the big guys to bite. Sometimes they were hanging lazy in the skinny, slow water, other times they were sulking under tree roots and boulders. Either way, they weren’t biting. The guys in the skinny water – well they were just plain tough to cast to or approach. I was reminded though of something that I know, but sometimes need to relearn. Fairly large trout can hide anywhere. It is an eye opening experience to watch a trout disappear under a flat rock on the stream bottom. A rock that looks like it couldn’t offer any safe harbor for a fish of that size. Or conversely watch a trout appear from nowhere.
And that’s what these fish would do. Like spectral visions they would suddenly be there drifting and watching a dry fly…watching…drifting…watching…then gone. If anybody ever tells you that fish on small, infertile streams never get picky…these fish were picky. I never did unravel the riddle. Was it drag, micro-drag, the wrong fly, tippet size? I can’t say. I was trying to keep it simple – so I didn’t change up a bunch. I switched from sakasa kebari wet flies to dry flies and that helped. The splat of the dry fly would draw the fish that were hiding out into the open. The splash of a potential food item would pull them from under their rocks or roots and they would either eat the fly or just watch it. Only the little guys ate it though. The bigger fellows just watched it. Oh well.
Still it was fun to watch. Why is it that we enjoy watching fish so much? What childish behavior…no not childish – childlike. It is childlike wonder, I guess. Cast a fly, watch a spotted, golden spirit slide silently from under a rock ledge. It is like conjuring. It is like magic. I guess that is what I cannot escape from. The spell of that natural childlike enthusiasm at seeing a wild thing – of interacting with a wild thing.
Still the very small trout stream seems to harbor a melancholy. In my neck of the woods it is rare and fragile. This stream is not long and when it hits the larger stream to which it is a tributary, the trout habitat is over. The larger stream is too warm to be a good trout river, it is a stocked stream which probably has some holdovers, but which doesn’t support a real trout fishery. Of course the wild trout in the little tributary stream have arisen from those stocked fish. So the little stream is a sanctuary for the trout and for me. But it is so finite. The small stream fisherman has to deal with this idea – the small stream is so apparently finite. There is no ignoring this fact. As you hike upstream it gets smaller and smaller – and this happens quickly. The big river does the same – but you can ignore it. You cannot ignore the way the tiny stream dwindles. You can fish it to its unfishable source. You can watch it disappear. You can stand in a cleft of the land and stare at the space where a stream is only an idea. An idea that the land has formed in its mind – but which it hasn’t followed up on yet. Fishing up a small stream is an activity with a catastrophic ending – it ends with annihilation of the stream itself. It makes you wonder about those who fish these smallest of streams. What does it say about us? Or maybe it’s all just about trying to catch some fish.
When I say small stream here – I’m talking small. Not small compared to a river but small compared to a small stream. This tiny stream is tucked into a rhododendron choked valley. Are the fish that it contains native strain brook trout unpolluted by our hatcheries? Probably not – but I don’t know. Defying non-existence they exist. Whether or not I fish for them they hatch, swim, spawn, die. By fishing for them I give them meaning and they give me meaning. As sweat trickles down my brow from under the brim of my hat and burns my eyes, as I (for the hundredth time) untangle the line from a branch, as I miss that subtle and lightening quick strike, as I worry about rattlers, as the stream enslaved by gravity tumbles toward union and oblivion with the river, I slowly merge into the shadowy green-ness – into a quiet “un-ness”, I complete an arabesque into sweet nothing. It can take a while, but eventually (hopefully) the million small frustrations of fly fishing a small, brushy stream will allow the shift from “going fishing” to just “being”. Forgetting the self. That is my goal. To put a strip of duct tape over that relentless internal dialog and to silence it. To move from thinking in words to thinking in actions.
The small brushy stream holds challenges for the fly fisher and the tenkara angler. Because of the longer rod – maybe more challenges for the tenkara angler. Those overhanging trees and rhododendron make casting and hook-setting very difficult. There is very rarely any place to backcast. And if you attempt to set the hook with a little too much gusto – it doesn’t take much – you will find your line, your fly and maybe your rod-tip tangled overhead.
So how do you overcome these problems? Think small. Short rods and short lines. I have two short rod options. A 7′-8″ Daiwa Soyokaze that I bought from www.tenkarabum.com, and a Tenkara USA Iwana with the short handle (making it come in at a little over 9′ long). The Daiwa has a softer tip than the Iwana. This is good and bad. The softer tip loads with a very light line. When you have room to backcast – casting a #2 fluorocarbon line is no problem at all. The light line makes for very delicate presentations – which on these small streams is paramount. But the trade-off is in the hookset. The soft tip can make hook-setting a little more difficult. I think the Iwana has the edge when it comes to setting the hook. Obviously the rod length can be an issue too, with its own tradeoffs. The shorter Soyokaze makes casting a bit easier – but you lose the reach of the longer rod. For the smallest brushiest streams, I’ll go with the short rod. If the stream is a bit more open then maybe the longer rod. The short line goes without saying. I want the line, plus tippet to be a little shorter than the rod. Not only is a short line much more manageable in the brush, but it makes the bow-and-arrow cast possible.
I think this is the smallest trout that I ever caught on a fly.
What about casting? Well on this particular stream I’d say 90% of the casting was bow-and-arrow casting. In case you are unfamiliar, the bow-and-arrow cast is done by grasping the fly at the hook bend, pulling back to bend the rod, aim the the rod at the target, and release. This cast is crucial on small brushy streams because it allows you to cast into tight spaces without a backcast. And after some practice you can get pretty accurate with this cast. The overall length of line+tippet is crucial. You’ll find that you’ll want that total length to be just a bit shorter than the rod length. If it’s too long you won’t be able to pull the fly back far enough to load the rod for casting. Too short and it’s difficult to reach the fly without choking up on the rod or setting it down behind you.
Biggest of the day. I’ve caught some bigger fish in this tiny stream, but this was the day’s trophy.
What about hook setting? When you’re under low hanging branches you’ll find hook setting a problem. A flick of the wrist, and if you miss the fish, you’ll often find your fly and your line hopelessly tangled in the snarling branches above you. Sometimes the fish hook themselves, but often they spit the fly out. For example on this day, I’d bow-and-arrow cast the fly to a tiny pool or riffle, begin a dead-drift, and the line would dodge or stop, I’d try to set the hook gently – invariably it would be too late and end up in the trees. I’d try to let them hook themselves by applying just a gentle pressure to the rod when I had a strike – but these were pretty small fish, and they would not hook themselves that way. So I went to plan C. What worked for me was this; I’d cast and when the fly hit the water I’d begin making small pulses – almost jigging the fly, kind of like a bunch of small preemptive strikes. It worked. And it worked well. I finally began hooking fish and not hooking overhanging branches. Getting the fly moving a little seemed to be just the ticket to getting positive hook-sets.
It may go without saying but stealth is crucial. These fish are not picky. They will try to eat just about any fly that will fit in their mouths. But they are spooky. You need to be sneaky. Walk slowly, avoid wading if at all possible, cast no shadows on the water, don’t shake the overhead branches, don’t let your line slap on the water and watch the tail of the pool. This can take a lot of patience and focus. But you will not catch fish if you spook them. There is no long distance casting on a stream like this – you are going to have to get close. If you’re fishing a small mountain stream like this, that you know has fish, and you’re not getting strikes then you’re not being stealthy enough. The toughest approaches on this stream were the larger pools. Often a fish would be sitting in the skinny water just at the tail end of the pool. In spite of my best efforts these fish were very difficult to fish to without spooking. Getting close enough was a big problem,and then casting too was an issue. If anything more than the fly hit the water – they were gone. Even the light #2 level line was plenty to spook them. The heads of the pools offered a nice bit of broken water making the approach much easier.
The fish are small – there is no glory of big fish here. There is no hatch-matching. There is no technical midge fishing. It is a different set of challenges, but this is perhaps some of the toughest fishing I do. On these tiny, brushy streams, I feel like I work harder for fish than just about anywhere.
Just finished reading the Chasing Wild Trout!: A Beginner’s Guide to Fly Fishing Small Streams eBook by Ben Smith of the Arizona Wanderings blog (azwanderings.com). And the quick of it is this – Ben has created a nice primer for the beginning fly angler. Is this book for everyone? No it is not – but that is not the intention. Chasing Wild Trout is just what it says it is. It is a beginner’s guide to fly fishing small streams.
Personally, I think that this approach is a great way to go. It can be easy to go overboard with an introductory book on fly fishing. There are so many types of water fished and types of fish targeted by fly fishers, that as a result the techniques and gear are seemingly unlimited. To the beginner it can be overwhelming. Rather than a scatter shot approach that attempts to cover it all, Ben Smith has taken a very focused approach. He has decided to tackle the subject of small stream trout fly fishing.
I think that he has succeeded. I don’t mean to imply that this fairly slim volume (slim if it were an actual book, instead of an eBook), encompasses the fullness of small stream fly angling – of course it doesn’t. What it does though is get the beginning angler on the right path to a past time that can take a lifetime to master. The way that Mr. Smith does this is to take a simple, even humble approach. Rather than “expertising” on the subject and claiming that his way is the only way – Smith presents the information in a more relaxed way. It is akin to a friend taking you under their wing and saying “There are a million ways to do this thing – rather than show you all of them I’m going to show you my way. Is it the only way? No. But it is a way that works for me.”
In a fly angling world filled with a seemingly endless variety of gear, fly shops full of gadgets, bins full of flies, magazines (and websites) filled with how-to articles it can be hard to see an easy path. The beginner can suffer paralysis by analysis. Especially if they don’t have a friend or mentor to show them the way. And that is where this ebook comes in. The rank beginner can pick it up, read it, apply the simple message and get off on the good foot toward being a successful angler. It won’t tell you everything there is to know – but it will give you a good system for fishing small streams for trout.
Here’s a peek at the Table of Contents:
Section 1: Where to Begin (Fly Rod, Reel, Line)
Section2: Other Gear
Section 3: Small Stream Flies
Section 4: How to Fish a Small Stream
Section 5: Stream Etiquette
Section 6: Casting and Knots
Section 7: Resources
Section 8: Printable Checklist
Disclaimer: I requested and received a review file of this ebook. I was in no way compensated for this review.
Fortune smiled and gifted me with a delightful evening on the local small waterway. No insects of the biting kind were in evidence and the air temperature was of such a degree that it was warmly pleasant but tempered by cool crepuscular breezes. I found myself in successful contest with fishes of 5 species: Catostomus commersonii, Lepomis cyanellus, Micropterus dolomie, Ambloplites rupestris and Lepomis macrochirus. Except for C. commersonii they were all sunfish of the family Centrarchidae, C. commersonii being one of the Cypriniformes, an order that includes carp, minnows and loaches. What they all five have in common though, is that they are all native to my local environs.
When you use latin it makes everything classier right? Maybe not. Here’s what I caught in plain English; a white sucker, some green sunfish, a few smallmouth bass, a couple of rock bass and a bluegill or two. Woo-Hoo! It’s like a grand-slam(+1) right? But nobody brags about this kind of thing though do they? When you catch a trout grand-slam in a stream it’s pretty cool though, and you might mention it. A trout grand-slam would be something like brown, rainbow, brook and cuttthroat, right? Here’s the thing though – that combo is of course is not possible without stocked fish, or wild but non-native fish. It’s not natural. I could be wrong but I doubt that there’s any stream in which you could catch four native species of trout (if I’m wrong please let me know). Perhaps if you include salmon it’s more possible, I’m not sure.
The point is that I can drive a few minutes to small local warmwater stream and have an evening of catching fish on the fly rod (or tenkara rod as was the case). I can readily catch 5 or 6 species of native fish all in the same stretch of stream. And most put a nice bend in the rod. Pound for pound, the sunfish family fights better than any trout.
Is it a compromise? Or is it a promise. I used to think the former but now I say the latter. In the not too recent past I looked to the warmwater stream as a big compromise. Don’t get me wrong, I still love small stream, mountain stream, trout fishing. It is still my favorite kind of fishing. But I don’t view the local wamwater waterway as the compromise that I used to. It is a waterway full of promise. It used to be akin to an open sewer, a stream despoiled by industrial pollution, acid mine drainage, sewage. It still bears the scars of these former assaults, and judging by the presence of some high-water sewage overflow warnings it still suffers. But it has come back from the brink to be a decent little stream. The smallmouth aren’t huge – but they are there, along with many other fly catchable fish. Like the stream itself these denizens are survivors. They are natives. They belong here. Which cannot be said for many of the trout in Pennsylvania and all across the country. I don’t want to be preachy and I don’t mean that as any kind of indictment. Things are what they are. Some fish have been put where they don’t belong. Perhaps it was ignorant and in hindsight destructive but it is what it is.
The thing that struck me when I was fishing this stream and catching these fish is that, not only is it not a compromise but it is a privilege to be able to do so. These small streams and the native fish that live in them deserve our respect as tenkara anglers, fly fishers or whatever kind of angler you are. To catch these fish roots you in the present and connects you to the to the past.
disclaimer: It occurred to me only after posting this story that I should make sure that one thing is clear. The rod that is reviewed in the following post, though very similar to a tenkara rod – is not marketed by the manufacturer as a tenkara rod.
Yes – this is a cautionary tale and please heed the following warnings. If you are not interested in fun – do not read on. If you are not interested in beauty and grace – do not read on. Do not read any further if you have a dull mind filled with thoughts only of largesse and of grandiose things and of mankind’s attempt to shrink the universe, and to strip it of all its wonder and wildness to fit its own needs. If you are interested only in facts, dear Reader, then please stop reading now. For facts are cheap and easy to come by – but truths are another matter indeed. Truths lie in the interstices, in the implied spaces between the facts, and are harder to suss out. Somewhere under the rocks, in the benthic regions, covered with latin names and chitin, lies the beginning of truth. Often the truth is hidden from us until we start to turn over rocks. But sometimes it emerges like an angel, and sometimes it is eaten by a trout. In the interface between worlds – watery and terrestrial – that is where the fisherman finally confronts the truth. Some of us want to come to this meeting in a different way, in a less encumbered way. A new wind is blowing through the valley along the stream bottoms and it is a “gentle breeze” – it is the Soyokaze. If you choose to read on you may find yourself, like this author, swept along in that breeze never to return….
If you’ve made it this far, I apologize for the introduction. I haven’t had anything that I wanted to say lately – so I have a little pent-up wordiness. Recently and at long last I finally got out for some small stream fly fishing. And by small stream, I mean small stream in the Eastern sense. Here in my neck of the woods most small trout streams are also brushy, tight, and canopied. Those three words – brushy, tight, canopied – are not music to fly fishers’ or tenkara fishers’ ears. Some streams are even what you might call “tunneled”. That is so overhung with trees and rhododendron that it’s like fishing in a tunnel of verdure. Fly rods can be hard to handle in these places, unless you go to a very short fly rod. My small, brushy stream fly rod is a 7-ft 3wt. But with my recent tenkara obsession, I’ve attempted these types of streams with 9.5, 11 and 12′ tenkara rods. Let’s say that those experiences where a bit frustrating. It’s nearly impossible to get a cast out with those long rods on the types of streams I’m talking about (the 9.5 footer isn’t too bad). If you do get a cast out then, you get the tip stuck in the overhanging branches when you try to set the hook…it is trying.
A very short tenkara rod is what I wished for. But we all know what good wishing is, after all “If wishes and buts were cherries and nuts, it would be Christmas all year long.” Surprise, surprise – it is Christmas time. Sometimes wishes do come true (I’m wiping a small tear from the corner of my eye). My wishes have been granted in the form of the Daiwa Soyokaze 24SR 7-ft 8-inch tanago rod. What is a “tanago” rod? The term “tanago” is used to describe several species of small minnow-like fish in Japan. However tanago fishing, in the west, seems to be taking on a more generic meaning, something akin to “micro-fishing”. It is generally a bait fishing method utilizing tiny bait hooks and tiny floats.
But to my eyes this “tanago” rod is basically the same as any tenkara rod. I don’t know about the specifics of the rod’s design. But it is, in every noticeable way, a tenkara rod. The only notable difference that I can see is the handle, or lack thereof. Unlike the tenkara rods that I’ve used, the Soyokaze does not have cork or foam grip. Instead the “grip” is simply the widened, roughened, non-skid section of the rod-butt. I thought that this might be uncomfortable – but the rod is so light that I didn’t notice any problems at all with the small diameter handle. The TenkaraBum site, which sells the Soyokaze, has a more thorough and technical discussion of the Soyokaze’s design – HERE.
The Soyokaze is available in 4 lengths, 6’6” ($57), 7’8”($65), 9’0”($72) and 10’2”($82). All rods collapse to a mere 19” and weigh only 1.13, 1.38, 1.69 and 2.15 ounces respectively. As you can see in addition to their light weight, they are also pretty light on the wallet.
So how does it fish?
How does it fish? That’s the question isn’t it? Well – first a little digression. Many folks will tell you that a 7’8” tenkara rod is too short. You can’t keep very much line off of the water, tenkara-style, with a rod that short. You can’t cast very far with a rod that short. You have to get too close to the fish, it will require too much stealth, etc. Well – yeah. That may all be true, but on small brushy, canopied streams that is not a problem. On those small wild brookie streams, you have to get super close anyway because of their very nature. They’re too tight for long casts anyway. You have to be super stealthy anyway or you’ll spook those fish from a mile a way. So those complaints are not really valid for the places I’m talking about. I did consider trying the 9′ model, but I already have a 9’4” and an 11′ tenkara rod – so I figured I’d go smaller.
So what’s the verdict? I’ve been waiting to say this since the beginning of the review – I love it. I love this rod. I found it an absolute joy to fish with. It is so light – you hardly even notice it. It will cast a super-light line for very delicate presentations with ease. I used a TenkaraBum hi-viz hand-tied 7.5′ light weight tapered line with about 3′ of 5x tippet. The short rod and short line made casting among grabby shoreline rhododendrons and overhanging branches much more do-able, than with your typical tenkara rod. Fly fishing on these types of small brushy streams is never going to be easy. It requires a level of patience and concentration that I don’t always have. If you’re not willing to go slowly, pay attention to your surroundings and tread lightly you are going to be frustrated and unsuccessful – with any length rod. But with the 7’8” Soyokaze I found myself extricating the line and rod tip from overhanging branches much less frequently than usual. It still happens – but that’s small brushy stream fishing for you.
So what about the rod being too short? Unless you never mature beyond the self-centeredness of a child you realize that a happy, peaceful life is all about compromise. And so it is with fly fishing. You cannot have it all. You give up this to get that. And so, yes, the 7’8” rod is a compromise. But, for small brushy streams, it is a much better compromise than a longer rod, in my opinion. As streams move on downhill their nature often changes and then changes back. They speed up and slow down, widen and narrow. So even on small brushy streams there are occasionally nice, open pools that you could easily fish with a long 12′ tenkara rod. On these pools with the 7’8” rod I found myself at something of a disadvantage, compared to a longer rod. However, I could still fish these pools – and I could fish the other much tighter spots. So, in the end I found that the 7’8” rod opened up more of the stream to me than it closed down.
Ahh – but can you land big fish!? This is the question put to tenkara anglers the world over. Would I take the Soyokaze 7’8” rod to lake Erie for some lake-run steelies? No, of course not. But am I confident that it can handle 99.99% of the fish that I’d find on the streams that I’d use it on? Absolutely yes. Remember that on small streams, even big fish don’t have many places to run. There are not generally big heavy currents to plunge down – in short fighting big fish on small streams isn’t the same as fighting the same fish in a bigger river. On this trip I didn’t land any monsters, but I landed a couple of decent browns – the bigger running about 12 or 13” (as with many anglers I’m pretty bad at guesstimating the length of fish that I catch so take it with a grain of salt). I brought those bigger fish in with no trouble at all.
The cautionary bit. I told you that this was a cautionary tale – and so it is. After fishing with and falling in love with the Soyakase 24SR, I have found myself surfing on over to TenkaraBum’s Daiwa Tanago Rods page a little too often. I find myself wondering what the 6’6” would be like or what about the 9′ or 10’2” rods? I’m finding reasons to buy them all. After all they’re small. So the cautionary part is this – if you buy one Soyokaze you are going to want them all.
Disclosure: I originally borrowed the Soyokaze 24SR to test and review – but after a day of fishing with it I bought it outright from TenkaraBum.
Small Stream by Anthony Naples
Poem #7: Small Mountain Stream
Hanging low over the stream
Miles to the best fish
I wade cold water, and stones
Find their way into my boots
I thought that I would try to tackle some different poetic forms, for the first of my formal attempts I am trying Japanese Tanka. The above poem is an attempt at tanka. The waka or tanka is an unrhymed poem of thirty-one syllables. English language Tanka is typically 5 lines with the following number of syllable in each line 5/7/5/7/7. I’m no expert, but from what I gather after some quick online research, the tanka often involves two different references or observations. Usually the poem will pivot from one reference to the other just after or during the third line. It is the juxtaposition of these two observations that can lend meaning to the poem. But to get a much better explanation and understanding check out this good online reference for tanka, Tanka Online.
And here are a few traditional Tanka examples:
Ono no Komachi, a female poet, ca. 850
The colour of the cherry blossom
Has faded in vain
In the long rain
While in idle thoughts
I have spent my life.
Princess Shikishi, 1149 – 1201
Deep in the mountains
The pine branch door
Does not feel the coming of spring:
Only the slow dropping of gems
From the melting snow.