Observing a first time Tenkara Fisherman
by Les Albjerg
I talked to my son last night and he said, "Dad when can we go fishing again with those Kebari flies?" This is the first time ever that my son has wanted to go fishing. He never wanted to fly fish before. He would bring his spinning rod and half hardheartedly wet the line.
We talked a little about his new excitement, and I felt some of what he shared might be helpful. What I realized is he came to the Tenkara game last week with very little fishing baggage. He isn't a converted fly fisherman (like most of us, I suspect). We had an ideal situation on Monday for a new fisherman. A slow moving creek, no trees or brush behind us, just a meadow, and rising fish.
I took John over to the pond about 150 yards from the mouth of the creek for a couple of lessons. I showed him a couple of casts with the Suntech GM Suikei Keiryu Special 44, and handed him the rod. He tried a couple of casts, and the same frustration came over him when he was trying to learn how to fly fish. I then told him, "just flick the fly out there, let the rod do the work." He made three perfect casts in a row, and had a big smile.
Using a Keeper Kebari tied on a size 6 hook gives a nice amount of weight on the end of the tippet too. After a couple of more casts, I encouraged him to try to land the fly first and keep the line off the water. He did it perfectly every time. I mused as to why I have had such difficulty with that concept and it goes back to my fly fishing background of wanting to suspend the fly line, tippet and fly above the water for a gentle landing.
Watching John, landing the Kebari first is by nature a gentle landing. Hearing and seeing fish rising was too much for John to have more lessons so over to the action we went.
Eighty percent of the fish were rising on the other side of this spring creek under the overhanging willows. Only once did I have to go down and across to get a fly out of the willows. Since we had unlimited (about 2 miles) space behind us with the meadow, John figured out just the right distance to stay out of the willows.
Soon he was dropping the Kebari right on the nose of the trout and WHAM, the fish was on! I looked over and when there weren't any rises he was taking a step or two forward and dropping the fly between the willows and doing the basic manipulation I showed him as he worked the fly out into the main current before it snagged the downstream willow. He brought several fish to the Kebari that way.
He didn't make the mistake of trying to fight the fish with a pure straight-up bend in the rod, but lowered the rod right or left depending on the way he wanted to guide the fish to play it. He took full advantage of the power in the rod to play the fish before landing it. There was a slow left right battle, similar to watching a sword fight in slow motion!
He had a smile on his face, and there was no doubt that he was enjoying himself. I said to him, "Are you having fun?" His reply was insightful, "I love this kind of fishing. There is only one thing to worry about and that is fighting the fish." He talked on the way home how he was able to feel the fish turn left or right, try to swim deeper or come to the surface. He talked about that it wasn't just hauling the fish in, but having a real battle with the fish. For the first time, he even said, "I enjoyed the ones that got away."
Invest in getting several lines. I was fishing with a level 3 line. Once I saw John's frustration with his casting in the breeze with gusts, during our lesson time, I switched him over to a level 3.5 line. That extra weight made all the difference. Chris preaches go with the lightest line possible, but that may be different for different people and different situations. For the price of one good fly line, you can have an arsenal of fluorocarbon level lines.
I learned a lot from watching my son. For the first time, I stopped trying to draw analogies to fly fishing, and began really enjoying Tenkara and Keiryu in their own right. I have learned a lot from this website. I have written about the work of Paul Gaskell and John Pearson on this blog, and I must attribute my gains to their teaching too. Chris must like them since he is carrying their new rods!
My son John is watching their free videos on YouTube, and on Monday he is coming over for dinner and we are going to watch one of the purchased lessons on the big screen. I have a true convert on my hands!
Spending 6 plus hours fishing both Tenkara style and Keiryu style, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in Western Fly Fishing in my experience like dropping a Kebari right on the nose of a fish and feeling the explosion of the take followed by the power of that first run! Drifting a red wiggler with no weight on a size 20 hook is a very similar experience.
In this setting we were able to do both kinds of fishing well. The Keiryu fishing was a more laid back experience of positioning the worm for a good drift and then the fight once you had a take. Our Tenkara approach was more aggressive to either a rising fish or a potential holding area between the willows. John really took to the more aggressive approach of Tenkara fishing. It was a 50 plus fish afternoon and evening of fishing.
I hope these observations are helpful as you grow in your fixed line journey or are try to teach others.
Walk softly and carry a long stick. - Teddy Roosevelt (almost)
Tenkara has no strict rules. Enjoy tenkara in your own way.
- Eiji Yamakawa
“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin
The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.