Midwest Spoon Fest

The Driftless region of southern Wisconsin is an area of excellent but challenging fishing. Most of the streams are small, low gradient meadow streams.  In many places there is enough current to provide a broken surface, which gives tenkara anglers at least some chance to catch fish.

In most cases the banks are devoid of any cover, and are often steep enough that your only choices are to wade up the middle of the stream or stay on the high bank several feet above the water’s surface. If you stay up on the bank and if water is clear, the fish can see you from further away than you can comfortably cast a tenkara rod, particularly if there is any breeze at all.

Many of the streams are narrow enough that if you choose to wade, though, the fish you spook will swim upstream, spooking all the trout for quite a ways ahead of you.

Typical Driftless trout stream.

The Midwest Tenkara Fest, held May 5-6 in Coon Valley, WI, provided an excellent venue for introducing fly rods spoons to tenkara anglers. Many of the participants had heard of the Daiwa Vega spoons but had not yet tried them. Sales of the spoons were pretty good considering the number of attendees.

The feedback I received about the spoons was uniformly positive. Most of the people told me how they did were surprised at the spoons’ effectiveness (as I had been the first time I tried them). Zoan K reported catching something like 11 fish in 15 casts. Mike L said he had fished a run right behind an experienced tenkara angler who had said “there are no fish there.” Mike said on his first cast, two fish chased the spoon down, one of which he caught.

Brookie caught by pulling a spoon along an undercut bank.

The only thing people said that wasn’t absolutely glowing was the wish that the spoons would fish a bit deeper. The Daiwa Vega .8 gram spoons will fish a bit deeper, but casting them will not be nearly as smooth. Casting the .4 gram spoons is no different than casting a modest bead head nymph. Casting the .8 gram spoons isn’t nearly as smooth, but the jerkiness can be minimized by using a heavier line.

The effectiveness of the Daiwa Vega .4 gram or .8 gram spoons more than makes up for the casting, though. While at the Midwest Tenkara Fest, I fished with two accomplished tenkara anglers. Most of the time I used spoons, one of them used flies most of the time, and the other fished both flies and spoons. I am pretty sure I caught more fish than they did, not because I’m a better angler, because assuredly I am not, but because spoons just worked better than flies in those streams on those days. The guy who switched off between spoons and flies caught fish on both, but caught more on spoons.

I think spoons elicit a predatory response that flies do not. Trout chase spoons and slash at them over and over. They don’t do that with flies - even streamers. It may be the flash, but even a black spoon will draw more strikes - and more aggressive strikes - than a black streamer.

One of the things I like best about fishing spoons is that you see many more of the strikes, whether it is a dark shape chasing it down or a silver flash as the trout turns on it. You do see fish take a dry fly, and you will occasionally see a trout turn on a wet, but you never see them chase it for 10 feet before they catch it!

A lot of the hits do not result in hook ups. I suspect that is partly because many fish hit the spoon from the side, and so never get the hook, and partly because the spoons come with a single hook rather than a treble. Personally, I am quite willing to hook fewer fish if the unhooking is easy and quick and causes minimal damage to the fish. Even the missed hits are exciting - and I seem to get a lot more hits on the spoons than I do on flies.

Brown caught with Tenryu Rayz RZ39LL.

I spent a lot of time fishing with the short Tenryu Rayz RZ39LL or the four-piece Tenryu Rayz Integral RZI50UL-4, both of which break down short enough to fit in a suitcase. With the spinning rods I was able to fish with heavier spoons, but that will be a trip report for the Finesse-Fishing.com site.


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“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin

"Study to be quiet." - Izaak Walton 1653

"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


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The fish are slippery when wet.

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