Like pesca alla Valsesiana, fishing upstream spiders isn't tenkara, but it is close - surprisingly close. "Spiders" are sparsely tied soft hackled wet flies, also called North Country Spiders or North Country Flies. Probably the iconic North Country Fly is the partridge and orange, which is nothing more than a body of silk thread and a turn or at most two of partridge feather; or perhaps the snipe and purple, which is just purple silk thread and a turn of snipe. (Hard to get snipe in the US, so the P&O is quite a bit more popular.)
"Upstream" is the way most people DON'T fish wet flies. Most fish them "down and across" or "on the swing." They probably catch fish on the swing, but they'd probably catch more fish and better fish by fishing upstream.
I recently bought a copy of the Essential Skills with Oliver Edwards "Wet Fly Fishing on Rivers" DVD to watch before deciding whether to carry it in the Books and DVDs section of the store. My thinking was that for more than a few anglers, tenkara might be their first exposure to wet flies. And after having found success with the tenkara kebari, I thought they might be interested in learning more about wet fly fishing. (And if you would be interested in getting a copy for yourself, please go to the
page and I can get you one. The DVD would be $40 and shipping would be $3.)
Most who came from a fly fishing background will certainly have fished dries and nymphs, and probably woolly buggers, but not wet flies. (I may be splitting hairs here, but even though nymphs and buggers are fished wet, I would not call them wet flies.)
Some of the effectiveness of tenkara is really the effectiveness of wet flies. I do not believe the "one fly" school would have developed had they fished dries. Trout seem to be much more selective of dry flies than they are of wets. I don't know that to be true, but I believe it.
In the DVD, Oliver Edwards demonstrated several techniques for fishing wet flies in rivers. It was clear, though, that the method he prefers, and the method he thinks is the most natural and most productive, is fishing upstream.
It makes perfect sense. When fishing down and across, the flies are swept across the current in a way that no real insect, living or dead, could possibly do. It is one thing for a wet fly to rise towards the surface as you do a "Leisenring Lift" or just at the end of a drift as you pick up your line to make a new cast. After all, nymphs do ascend to the surface to hatch. Swinging across the current, though, is definitely an unnatural act.
What also became clear was how much he thinks of not only WC Stewart's upstream fishing method, outlined in his 1857 book The Practical Angler, but also how much he thinks of the
Stewart Black Spider,
which served him well during the demonstration.
While watching the segment of the DVD in which he explains and demonstrates upstream wet fly fishing, I was struck by the very close similarity between the way Oliver Edwards fishes upstream and the way Dr. Ishigaki fishes upstream. Both utilize a relatively short line, try to keep as much line as possible off the water's surface, make frequent casts and allow short drifts before picking up for another cast.
It would be presumptuous for me to offer Oliver Edwards advice on how to fish, but I couldn't help thinking as I was watching his heavy line slap down on the water's surface, while listening to him talk about keeping a tight line, that he would be better served with a longer rod and lighter line than the 9 foot 4 weight fly rod he was using.
There was a recent post on fishing upstream spiders on a UK fly fishing forum in which the angler said he had experimented with using a French nymphing leader and 10' rod. He said he was amazed at how much his catch rate went up, and also at the number of takes he's been getting that he is sure he would have missed previously (with his shorter rod and heavier line).
As good as a 10' rod and French nymphing leader are at keeping your line off the water and being sensitive to subtle takes, a 12 or 13' tenkara rod and light fluorocarbon line are even that much better.
I would definitely suggest that spider or soft hackle anglers try tenkara rods, and also that tenkara anglers try a team of three North Country wets or three Sakasa Kebari, like the Sakasa Kebari Green, shown here wet and fish slimed. You can really see that the silk thread, so bright when dry, becomes much darker and more suggestive of an ascending nymph or emerger when wet. Check local regulations. Some states do not permit fishing three flies.
I am beginning to think we can pull the UK practice of upstream spiders in along with the Italian pesca alla Valsesiana as (not quite) tenkara techniques you will want to try.
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