Micro Fishing

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, to me,  is what micro fishing is all about.

TenkaraBum Micro Fishing won't be about tenkara, and won't 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 thought of fishing before.

Young of the year brown troutYoung 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 of tanago - and like many species of fish, the males take on distinct coloration during the breeding season and some are really quite beautiful.

smallest-fish3.jpgMy smallest fish

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.

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 in Micro Photo BoxStrawberry 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.

Creek Chub and seiryu rodA 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.

Angler holding Blacknose DaceBlacknose 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 1,154 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, when 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 succumb to night crawlers eventually did to the heat.

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 over 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.)

Angler holding Creek ChubCreek Chub caught with paste 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 and a full range of micro fishing gear (hook, line and sinker).

One pretty narrow definition of micro fishing is fishing for species that when fully grown do not weigh one pound. Another, even narrower, is that micro fishing is fishing for species that when fully grown to not exceed 6 inches in length. 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 be micros under either of those rigid definitions.

The only limit I would put on it is that you have to intend to catch small fish. If you are fishing for trout and happen to catch a black nose dace, that ain't micro fishing in my book. If you are fishing for black nose dace and happen to catch a trout does that mean you were trout fishing? Of course not.

...how common a fish you can catch without being disappointed. Andrew G photo

Personally, I don't see a whole lot of difference between trying to catch a 3" bluegill sunfish and trying to catch a 3" blue spotted sunfish. Granted the blue spotted is rare. The bluegill is common and incredibly easy to catch. Well, so are mosquitofish. To some people it matters quite a lot. It doesn't to me. I'm a lot more interested in the fishing than in the definitions.

However, please don't use my comments as arguments against the strict definitions. Fish the way you want to fish - just don't argue about whether the way you want to fish fits someone else's definitions.

I witnessed an extended argument over the definition of "tenkara" almost tear the tenkara community apart. I don't want to see that with micro fishing, but I am afraid it has already begun. It starts with "that's not a micro" and proceeds to get uglier.

Mummichog in Micro Photo TankChris "Kiwi" K's mummichog

Theses pages won't be limited to dace and 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.

A trickle of water across the road.

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 on a back road in 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 in Micro Photo TankCreek 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, to me that catch in that location is the very essence of micro fishing.

Micro inside Micro Photo BoxDuskystripe Shiner

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.

Very small bullhead in Micro Photo Tank2" juvenile Brown Bullhead caught on a speck of worm.

Micro fishing is not just a Japanese or an 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 and Indonesia!

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.

As I am sure most people know, I am winding down the TenkaraBum business, although I am leaving the website up as a general resource for people interested in tenkara, keiryu, seiryu and microfishing.

I am often asked where to buy microfishing gear now that I have nothing left in stock. I would highly recommend taking a look at Anglers Emporium, as they now have the largest selection of microfishing gear in the US. https://anglersemporium.com/collections/microfishing

I have no financial connection or relationship with Anglers Emporium. This referral is purely a service for people looking for hard-to-find gear.

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"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." -
Col. Robert Venables 1662

As age slows my pace, I will become more like the heron.


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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 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

Thanks for the prompt service of my order.  I have just discovered micro fishing and your products worked wonderfully.  I will be placing more orders shortly.  My whole family have become addicted and I'm running out of gear rapidly, lol. Best site I've ever ordered from.

Kenneth J, Mississippi

You sure have made my pursuit of microfishing a lot easier over the past ~5 years! Thanks for making all these products available!

Ryan D, Maryland

This is pathetic. . . . . . but a lot of fun!!!

A bass fisherman whose name I have withheld, California

Very small bluegill and Kurenai

Finally had a chance today to go micro fishing for the first time, intentionally anyway. The Tanago hooks, tippet connectors and sashi worked out great. Caught several sunfish of various kinds and my 4 yr old enjoyed the photo tank. I also caught my personal record smallest fish, this can certainly get addicting. I never thought I would ever be fishing for tiny fish on purpose but it’s still a lot of fun!

Thanks again for all the great gear you offer on your site.

Clint N, Arizona