Trip Report - 1-4-15

With so many rods that I need to fish, it's been a long time since I've fished with seiryu rods. I've definitely missed them. They are so light weight. They are so sensitive. If you don't often catch fish over about 16" they are perfectly capable and I really think they are the most fun rods to fish with.

Following up on my recent trip reports that suggested trout are quicker to spit out flies if they feel tension on the line, or if they feel a large hook or hard bead head, I wanted to try the small-hooked pink chenille worm with a few soft seiryu rods. All the zero tension keiryu rods available in Japan are too long for most of the smaller streams in the US. Seiryu rods are available as short as 1.9m (6'4"). (Not anymore. That rod has been discontinued, as was the 2.4m rod). That's really too short for all but the smallest, most overgrown streams, but the 2.9, 3.4, 3.9 and even 4.5m rods work very nicely on most US streams.

On Sunday I fished with the Suntech Kurenai HM39R (Coach's go-to rod), which has an extremely soft, sensitive tip, and the Nissin Air Stage Hakubai 450 (which I have been calling the Air Stage seiryu rod - and which has since been discontinued/). I thought they would be a good approximation of the "zero tension" approach to keiryu fishing, scaled down to seiryu rods.

I started out with the Air Stage in a pool that only fishes well if you fish deep. Coach always does better in that pool than I do. He fishes it with his Kurenai and a tungsten bead head nymph about 4-5' under a 1/2" Thingamabobber. Although the Kurenai has the softest tip of any rod I carry (with the possible exception of the true tanago rods), it stiffens up enough in the mid section that he gets good hook sets. He always tells me that I underestimate the capability of the rods I sell. The Kurenai HM39R might be at the top of that list. I fish the pool without an indicator and without tungsten, and I almost never get deep enough to catch anything.

On Sunday, the water was high following recent rains and we couldn't fish the very head of the pool, which traditionally has been the best. There is a tree on shore in just the wrong spot and there is a deep hole right along the shore. At Sunday's water level that hole was too deep so we couldn't wade close enough.

Fishing the pink chenille worm I didn't catch anything but I did have one long distance release (LDR). After a while Coach took the head of the pool and I fished the tail. There was enough current even at the tail of the pool that I was fishing with a BB shot, compared to the size 6 shot I'd used last week in Connecticut on a stream that was both smaller and shallower.

When you bounce your fly or split shot along the bottom, you're going to get hung up from time to time. In fact, if you never get hung up you aren't fishing on the bottom. Over the course of they day, I got stuck many times, but I was almost always able to free it by taking a few steps upstream, which changed the angle of the line to the rock that the split shot was caught on.

I think that is one advantage of fishing an unweighted fly with a split shot above it compared to fishing a weighted fly. With both methods you'll get stuck in the rocks but the weighted fly seems to stay stuck and the round split shot seems to come free if you take a few steps upstream. (Of course, there are advantages to fishing a weighted fly, including having a tighter line all the way to the fly, and getting fewer tangles.)

One of the times I got stuck had a unique ending. I'd taken a step upstream to change the angle of the line. The tension on the line suddenly released, but only a little. Then the line started moving. I've had bass pick up a rubber worm that had gotten stuck on a rock, but I've never had it happen with trout. After a little while I saw the fish and knew it wasn't a trout.

I thought it was a fall fish, but Coach had gotten a better view of it and said it was a sucker. After a few minutes, I finally got it into the net and saw that Coach had been right. I think the sucker picked up the stationary worm, which freed the split shot from the rock. There was just enough tension on the line that when the split shot came free one of the size 26 hooks was set immediately. That particular worm had three #26 hooks but only the first one caught.

Angler holding White SuckerWhite Sucker on a Pink Chenille Worm

I'd never caught a sucker on a fly before, and hadn't caught any at all since I was a teenager. At 14 1/2", this was the largest fish I've caught in this particular stream and it certainly fought like it. The Air Stage 450 brought it to the net before too long but it was definitely a battle.

This is a White Sucker, but I know some of the rough fish fans are quite partial to the various Redhorse sucker species (which aren't found in New Jersey). I am very definitely not one of those people who get disappointed when the trout they thought they had on the line turned out to be a different type of fish when they finally get a good look at it. To me a fish is a fish and this guy put up the best fight I've ever had on that stream.

After a while with neither of us getting a hit we moved up to the next pool, where we always seem to catch fish. For Coach the pool lived up to its reputation. I think he caught four trout and a fall fish there. I caught a couple trees - maybe three. My excuse is that I was using a longer rod than I usually use on that stream, and the keiryu rig I was using is a bit less accurate than casting a tenkara line. I ended up losing all the pink chenille worms I had tied for the day's outing.

So much for testing the small-hooked chenille worms with zero tension seiryu rods. I will say they hook tree branches extremely effectively, to the point I can't understand how a fish could take one and not get hooked. I know it happens, but it is one of the great mysteries of life.

Angler holding brown trout.One of the five fish taken from "Two Fish Pool."

I think Coach was feeling a little sorry for me, because he then drove to a pool where I almost always catch fish. We've even named the pool "Two Fish Pool." Sunday the water was higher than any time we'd ever fished that stream, but if anything it made this pool even better. As soon as he saw it Coach said I should catch 4 trout instead of two. I ended up catching five.

Fishing that pool was the first time I'd used worms tied with the Spirit River Squirmy Wormies. The guys who'd told me they work great were right. Two Fish Pool is reliable - but it's a reliable two fish, never five.

Nice pool in a small streamThe Stealth Pool at a lower water level. On Sunday the two rocks were under water and the current was trucking.

In the next pool that we fished, the "Stealth Pool," I lost both of the worms I'd tied with the Squirmy Wormies. Fishing a 450 rod in a pool you a very familiar with but always fish with a shorter rod can be costly in terms of lost flies. I knew the branches were there, and over time I'd learned how to miss them (with a 360 rod, that is). I had one LDR but no fish in the net. It's a pool where I usually catch at least one, often catch two and have caught three. To blank was a little disappointing.

We then went to the "Big Pool."  It's the deepest pool on that stretch of the stream and is almost always the best pool of the day. We generally alternate, with one guy getting first shot at the pool and the other guy starting out fishing the next pool down and then fishing the other side of the Big Pool (it really is big enough to fish from both sides at the same time). On Sunday it was my turn to get the Big Pool first. With my Squirmy Wormy flies gone I switched to flies tied with the tentacles cut from a kid's squeeze toy, San Ron worm style.

Surprisingly, the heart of the pool itself didn't produce any fish. Two streams feed into the pool, and I caught several trout where the larger stream enters the pool and a couple where the smaller stream enters. As Coach got to the pool and started fishing from the other side I worked up the larger of the two feeder streams and caught several more.

Getting the first chance at the pool really paid off Sunday. Between the head of the pool and the one feeder stream, I managed to catch eight while Coach got blanked. He'll get first shot next time, so it will balance out.

For the Big Pool and the feeder stream I had switched to the Kurenai HM39R. It felt surprisingly light after fishing earlier in the day with the Air Stage 450 (which itself is a light rod). You just don't expect a 13' rod to weigh only 1.5 ounces. Think about that for a second. That's less than half what many 12' rods weigh!

I don't know if I can really draw any conclusions about the use of sieryu rods as "zero tension" rods. I caught a lot of fish Sunday, as many trout as I've ever caught on that stream (plus a first-ever sucker!). I didn't miss nearly as many as I did the previous time I fished it. There were several variables, though, so I don't know how much of the greater hook-up percentage was because of the rods and how much was  because last time I fished a hard bead head rather than a soft silicone worm for much of the day. I do think that could be an important factor.

Angler holding brown trout alongside Suntech Kurenai RodFish caught by watching the rod tip.

I was also fishing a shorter line at least part of the time on Sunday, and for a while was watching the rod tip rather than the line. It turns out that the rod tip is an incredibly sensitive strike indicator.

When I was fishing the small stream in Connecticut last weekend, at one point I watched the rod tip because I couldn't see the water. When a fish hit, the rod tip just dove by about a foot. When I caught the second fish using the very short line, the rod tip shot to the right by about a foot. Obviously, both fish had come out from cover to take the worm and then headed back. The small hooks set so easily that I suspect the fish hooked themselves on their way back to their lies.

On Sunday, fishing the much larger stream with much faster current, the line did not shoot to the side on any of the hits. It just stopped. In most cases I watched the line or the keiryu markers, depending on whether I was fishing a tenkara rig or a keiryu rig. When I got to the Big Pool I fished a much shorter line so the rod tip wasn't nearly as high. That meant it was practical to watch the rod tip for takes.

When you are moving the rod, tracking downstream at the same speed as the current with the line tight, you can see the rod tip start to bend before you notice that the angle of the line has changed, and often before you can tell that the line has stopped. Of course, this is easier to see with a rod whose tip is as soft as the Kurenai. With a firmer rod like the Daiwa Kiyose or Nissin Sensui, I suspect you are more likely to feel the resistance or the tap of a fish than to see the rod tip start to bend over.

Of course, if you can feel the resistance, so can the fish. You might hesitate because you aren't sure it's not a rock. The fish won't hesitate because it is sure it's not a bug.

If you are fishing with the rod tip held high, as you normally would if you are not fishing a particularly short line, it may not be practical to watch the rod tip. With your eyes on the tenkara line or keiryu markers, you'll occasionally see the flash of a fish, which you wouldn't see if you were looking up at the rod tip. I've never actually watched the rod tip for strikes when fishing with a longer line and elevated rod.

Next time (though probably not next week). The guides don't freeze but I do.

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

"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.


The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.

Beware of the Dogma