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The Dragonfly Test

by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)

This Damselfly really liked my Nissin Zerosum 360.

This Damselfly really liked my Nissin Zerosum 360.

I’d like to suggest a new “on-the-water” test to measure the sensitivity of a tenkara rod, based on a recent fishing expedition.

Some weeks back, I was fishing at Cibolo Creek near Boerne, Texas, with my Nissin Air Stage Hakubai 240. This beautiful, sensitive rod weighs just over half an ounce and is a real delight to use. Anyway, I kept getting what I thought were light strikes from sunfish, but I just couldn’t set the hook. I’d cast softly, let the fly land gently on the water, let it sink a little, then tap . . . tap . . . tap—but I couldn’t catch the fish! “What’s going on here?” I thought, with growing frustration.

Then, I happened to glance at the rod tip, and guess what? A dragonfly was landing repeatedly on my pole, which I could feel through the super-slim handle of the Nissin Air Stage! How cool is that!? There are nearly 300 species of dragonflies and their close cousins, damselflies, in Texas; and, in my experience, they all like tenkara rods. These insects are real fans of fixed-line fly fishing.

So . . . if you don’t have any specialized scientific instruments . . . and you want to know how sensitive a rod is . . . just ask Chris Stewart at TenkaraBum if it would pass the “Dragonfly Test.” In my rod collection, the already-mentioned Nissin Air Stage Hakubai and my Suntech Kurenai HM30R easily pass. My Nissin Royal Stage Syunki also bends to the weight of a single dragonfly.

Think about this for a moment: a single dragonfly or damselfly may weigh .0001 ounce, or about .003 grams. Is it not a wonder that you can hold and fish with a rod that registers the landing of a single dragonfly? And doesn’t this help to explain why tenkara fishing is such a delight? Such sensitivity is nearly unmatched.

There are a couple of stretches of water I frequent that are covered in dragonflies and damselflies. I guess the sunlight, stream, and vegetation are just the right habitat. It’s fascinating to watch the buzzing, swooping, shifting needles of emerald greens, blues, and reds dart about. What a wonderful part of being outdoors! The aerial circus is stunning. Did you know that dragonflies have four wings that can move independently of each other? This explains why they’re the acrobats of the insect world, able to fly up, down, shift sideways, hover in mid-air, and even fly backwards. They can speed along at 30 mph. Did you know that some dragonflies migrate, just like Monarch butterflies, and scientists are just now deciphering those migration patterns? There’s a worthy project for a young scientist!
If you’re wondering how to tell them apart, dragonflies rest with their wings flat, while damselflies land with their wings folded over their backs. Also, dragonflies have eyes that pretty much cover their heads, while damselflies have eyes that are smaller and barbell shaped, with a space between them. My two photos above show damselflies.

Perhaps one of our excellent tenkara companies will consider developing a super-light, sensitive seiryu rod named “The Dragonfly” in honor of this amazing insect. C’mon, what tenkara angler wouldn’t want to own a one-ounce pole, painted emerald green and black, named “The Dragonfly”? (Maybe coupled with an even lighter, shorter, half-ounce rod named “The Damselfly”? This one in glitter blue and black.) Well, as a friend of mine says, “Everything is easy as long as you’re not the one who has to do it . . .”

So, there’s a lot going on when you see dragonflies buzzing a stream. They provide a way to measure the sensitivity of tenkara rods. They paint an amazing kaleidoscope of vibrant colors. And they remind us of the wonder of participating in nature. Do you own any poles that are dragonfly approved?

Comments for The Dragonfly Test

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Aug 11, 2017
Did you catch any fish?
by: Les A.

Great thoughts John! I was amazed at the variety of Dragonflies and Damselflies that you have in Texas. There was one with a very dark body and almost white wings that I wanted to bottle and take home with me, but I couldn't catch one. They really do love to land on the Tenkara rods. I have several rods that will pass the test and most of them are made by Suntech.

That connection with the rod and line is what makes this fishing so much fun and unique. The last time I was out for trout with the TenkaraBum 40 early this week, I really do think I could feel the fish biting the worm. I was fishing the "Ultralight Worm Fishing" method (see side bar for Chris' article), and as soon as I felt the chomp, I set the hook and it was "Fish ON!" I only set the hook on a weed once. There were a few times I pulled the red wiggler out of the fishes mouth, and I could feel the fish taking bites on the hook and worm as I missed getting a hook set!

I guess I prefer "the fish test." It is much more of an adrenaline rush that a dragonfly teasing you! You got to love a high quality sensitive fixed line rod.

Aug 12, 2017
The Nylon Line Test!
by: Les A.

John you got my creative juices flowing with your wonderful article. One of the bragging points of the Karasu is that it can, "Cast the infamous #3 NYLON level line (equivalent to casting a #1.75 fluorocarbon line)…" I went through all of my lines and I don't have any #3 Nylon level line, BUT I do have Sunline #1 Nylon level line!

Hmmm, Suntech Kurenai HM30R; plus 3 meters of Sunline #1 Nylon; plus 18 inches of 8x; plus a a size 18 parachute Adams; plus a place known for its 2-4 inch Sunfish equals ultralight madnesss!
Will this lead to a Sunshine of a smile if I try it?

I headed out to Red Top pond early this morning to test my overthinking madness! It was perfecly calm. The first 3 casts were a disaster! I did a couple of side casts and realized I was rushing things. I couldn't believe what a light feathery decent the fly had once I slowed my casting down and let the rod do the work!

The little sunfish seemed to fall into the same rythm as the line and fly and all of the takes were a gentle slurp of the fly by the sunfish and then the battle ensued! Four sunfish and 2 baby bass, and it was over because the wind came up! (Bummer it was a headwind.)

Was it fun? Yes! I was laughing as it seemed like the parachute Adams really had a parachute as it seemed to fall forever! Is it practical? Not really. I wouldn't want to tangle with anything bigger than the monster 3 incher that I had on today. I did have a sunshine of a smile!

Two lessons learned: 1. The Suntech Kurenai HM30R is one fine sensitive rod that can cast an ultralight line. It does pass the Dragonfly Test.
2. The lighter your line and tippet, the more connected you feel to the fish. This began as a personal challenge to see if it could be done. It ended with one of the more enjoyable fishing experiences so far with Tenkara. I could feel every move of the fish! When the little guys began their turn it was felt right away. The vibration from their swimming was felt across the whole hand!

The Sunline #1 Nylon is the same diameter as my spool of Varivas 4x Fluorocarbon tippet line. It was fun in the wide open spaces of Red Top Pond, but I don't think I would want to fish a tight stream with such a light outfit! Any kind of breeze really moves this setup around. If you want to take the challenge and don't have #1 nylon, give some 4x tippet as your main line a try! I had fun and will be fishing this setup again!

Aug 12, 2017
Light and Slow
by: John Evans

I'm certainly no expert, but in my limited experience I find that I catch more fish and enjoy the experience more if I go light and slow. Light line, light delivery, light touch all the way, plus slow movements in and around the water. Maybe "gentle" is a better word. I like to use the illustration of a family around the supper table. If a thief barges through the front door, we're probably not eating for a while. If someone gently slides a pizza in front of me and tiptoes away, I'm probably grabbing a slice. Yes, the Kurenai 30 definitely passes the Dragonfly test!

Aug 12, 2017
You Guys!
by: Herb S.

Once again we have a great, interesting, informative and entertaining blog and comments. Starting with entomology (always fascinating), lines (a large field of study and experiment) and the need to go light and slow (a most important topic for anybody who wants to catch fish rather than stomp around in the water). Keep it up!

Happy fishing,

Aug 17, 2017
TenkaraBum 40
by: Les A.

The TenkaraBum 40 passes the Dragonfly test too. I had 3 of them land on the tip of the rod this morning as I continue to test hooks for an upcoming article on Red Wiggler Worm fishing. It was a "many" fish day. The Dragonflies made me think I had a fish on!

I wonder if the Dragonflies are attracted to the red lillian? I think all of my rods have red lillians on them. I am going to have to check just and if I have one with a different color, I may have to do a test!

Aug 17, 2017
Maybe just a reed or stick thing?
by: John Evans

In my own mind, I'm thinking it has more to do with tenkara rods resembling the kind of nice, straight reed or stick where dragonflies and damselflies normally perch. Interesting thought, though. Gives you something else to watch while fishing!

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