Micro Fishing

Micro fishing gear - hooks, rods and accessories specifically designed for catching small fish. Micro fishing is fishing for small fish, and like any other type of fishing, having the right gear makes it easier and more enjoyable.

John Geirach once wrote: "Maybe your stature as a fly fisherman isn't determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed." Replace "fly fisherman" with just plain "fisherman" and replace "trout" with just plain "fish" and that is what micro fishing is all about.

TenkaraBum Micro Fishing won't specifically be about tenkara, and won't even always be about fishing with flies. It will be about intentionally fishing for and catching small fish, whether they are trout or bass, dace or darters. It will be about fishing that little creek in the town park  you've never even though of fishing before. It will also be about trying to catch a specific species of little fish that you know lives in a particular stream (but maybe nowhere else). It will definitely broaden your horizons.

Young of the year (YOY) Brown Trout caught on Killer Kebari

I became interested in micro fishing from reading about tanago, which  is a type of fish in Japan (called "bitterling" in English). They range from small to very small and the goal is to catch the smallest fish possible - one that fits entirely on a one yen coin (about the size of our penny). They are fairly closely related to carp, but then carp are actually in the minnow family! There are a number of species - and like many species of fish, the males take on distinct coloration during the breeding season and some are really quite beautiful.

They are said to be the world's smallest game fish. Tanago fishing is a pretty small niche within a country that is crazy for fishing, but some tanago anglers are as fanatical as any trout or bass fisherman. I read one account of a successful tournament bass fisherman who sold all his bass fishing gear and took up tanago fishing. Basically sitting alone on a stool beside a ditch or canal, holding a short bamboo rod almost as if it was a single chopstick, and catching fish so small that some bass fishermen wouldn't even use them for bait. Some would say "strange," others "serene."

I don't know if that would happen here.

Duskystripe Shiner

A couple people have cautioned me not to become overly fixated on tanago. That is certainly not my intention. There are many species of small fish here in the US that would make for very interesting quarry.  Some are abundant to the point of being almost ubiquitous, some are rare and only thrive in a few watersheds.

Strawberry Darter, found only in the Strawberry River (Arkansas)

Some are plain and some strikingly beautiful. A few seem to be incredibly challenging to catch, requiring careful planning and a trip across the country. Some are the perfect choice for a quiet day on the water, when you want to relax but you do want to catch a few fish. The variety seems endless.

And given all that, it is really a bit of a surprise that more people don't fish for them. Are we as a country so taken by the "bigger is better" mantra that we can't see the small fish in the neighborhood ponds and brooks as worthy? Is it that they're not trout? Does it really matter that much?

I think to a large extent it may be that the tackle we normally fish with is so geared to large fish that it is just overkill for micros. Ultralight spinning rods and reels are really intended for much larger fish.

A creek chub puts up a good fight when caught on a light rod.

Even the "extreme ultralight" spinning rods and reels of the threadliners (people who use fly fishing tippet as their spinning line) are still too heavy. The "ultralight fly fishing" folks use rods and lines - up to a three weight - that are considerably stiffer and heavier than tenkara rods. Even tenkara rods are not really sensitive or soft enough to feel the fight of really small fish. It's not that they don't fight, it's just that we can't feel it.

Blacknose Dace caught with a half grain of rice.

There is a growing number of fishermen who specifically fish for small fish. Many of them are working on a life list - the fishing equivalent of bird watchers who want to see as many different species of birds as they can. People working on a life list try to catch as many species of fish as they can - and it turns out most of the 1154 fish species in the US are pretty small.

There are a lot of micro fishermen, though, who like me are not formally pursuing a life list. To them, micro fishing is new, is a surprising amount of fun, and is something they can do locally.

Somehow, fishing for small fish, even very small fish, just appeals to me and has for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid I used to fish a little pond right at the edge of town. It had lots of sunfish and bullheads and a few crappies. I don't remember catching any bass, but they were probably in there. It was stocked with trout each year for the town's annual "Huck Finn" day, in which all the kids dressed up as Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer or Becky Thatcher and paraded down Main Street. Being on the plains rather than in the mountains, the water was too warm and any trout that didn't fall to night crawlers probably did to the heat.

Bluegill caught with Size 26 Stewart Black Spider

I have a few good memories of fishing that pond, but the one that is the most distinct is wanting to catch the fish I could see. It was of no importance that the fish further out, that I couldn't see, were much larger than the ones I could. Of course the ones I could see were little sunnies that could not have been 3" long. It didn't matter. Those were the ones I wanted to catch. (And I have to admit that some days I still feel that way.)

Creek Chub caught with Marukyu Minnow Bait

TenkaraBum Micro Fishing will be pretty familiar to people who know the TenkaraBum site well. In addition to providing some basic information to people who are new to micro fishing, it will offer rods appropriate for micro fishing, a full range of micro fishing gear (hook, line and sinker) and a gallery for people to share photos of their catches.

There is already a pretty impressive list of species that people have caught on their Daiwa Soyokaze and Shimotsuke Kiyotaki rods. A lot of them are from little streams or ponds that don't get much notice from other anglers. Of course a lot of the fish being caught don't get much notice from other anglers, either.

Chris "Kiwi" K's mummichog

One pretty narrow definition of micro fishing is fishing for species that when fully grown do not weigh one pound. I'm not a big stickler for formal definitions, so this section of TenkaraBum will be about catching small fish, whether technically micros or just juveniles of fish that get too large to really be micros.

And while micro fishing will probably be the main focus, it won't be limited to the dace and the darters. The larger theme will be pursuing small local fish in small local streams, ponds and puddles. As the mummichog pictured above shows, brackish and salt water yields micros, too. Seriously, any body of water that doesn't dry up in the summer or freeze solid in the winter, and isn't horribly polluted, probably has fish of some sort.

I don't know about you, but I cannot drive over or past a body of water and not wonder "what lives there and how do I catch it?" That was nowhere more true than one afternoon driving through north central Arkansas where I happened to cross little more than a trickle of water going over the road. I slowed the car, looked out the window and saw a little pool at the side of the road - and then I saw that there were fish in the pool. I just had to stop. And then I just had to catch one.

Creek Chub caught in a trickle

From the dark spot at the base of the dorsal fin, you can tell that it's a creek chub - neither rare nor remarkable, but still a most memorable catch. Since I am not working on a life list, that catch in that location is the essence of micro fishing.

What I also find remarkable is that so many of the micros have stripes or various areas of their body that just seem to glow in the right light. You just don't see that with trout or bass.

2" Brown Bullhead caught on a speck of worm.

Micro fishing is not just a Japanese (and now American pursuit). There are South African devotees and I recently found a video on a carp fishing site about micro fishing in England. And if you think fishing for small fish is big here in the US, you should see them in Norway!

John Gierach also wrote "If people don't occasionally walk away from you shaking their heads, you're doing something wrong." I'll take that quote, and the first one, as the direction for TenkaraBum Micro Fishing.

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Micro Fishing Kit

Thanks for bringing a new challenge into fishing for me.

Kevin L, California

I have converted a few friends to the religion of microfishing, and I have directed them to your site as the source for the divine implements. They tried my gear out and I even got the "If it's not a 10lb bass it's nothing" guy to break out into a huge smile.

Blake L, New York

I love the Kiyotaki 18! And thanks for including a such a good segment on micro fishing in your shop. This opens new opportunities for fishing literally in my neighborhood.

And thanks, too, for the great service.

Dan H, Pennsylvania

I bought some Micro Fishing Gear from you a little while ago and since then I have been having a blast. I've been using a old broken 7 foot fly rod and a friend and I have been taking turns while we wait for bigger fish to see who can catch the smallest fish. I would like to say today I hit the new record with a .75 inch creek chub.

Matt W, MIchigan