I'll admit to being a fair weather fisherman. I know one of the advantages of Tenkara is that the guides don't freeze, but I do. It's not so much the cold air, though, it's the cold water. When my feet get cold, and they always do when wading in the winter, I'm even less steady on my feet than normal. Thanks to my wading staff, I don't actually fall very often, but the consequences of a fall in the winter would be more serious. Without a car to go sit in, change clothes and crank up the heater, I'd have to wait up to an hour for the next train, outdoors, soaking wet, in December. That doesn't sound like a recipe for fun.
Before taking up
Tenkara, I never fished in the winter. And even now, when it gets too cold I'll stay
home. If the forecast is for temps in the 30s, with wind, even catching up on my accounting starts to sound like a good idea.
I went out this weekend to fish with a couple rods before deciding whether to carry them on the site. As is usual for me in December, there was a lot more casting than catching. Truth be told, it's that way for most people most of the year. It certainly is for me - even on my best days, when the fish come easily and readily, there's still a more casting than catching.
Realization comes slowly, sometimes, but the realization that for every fish caught there are lots and lots of casts does start to place greater emphasis on the enjoyment of the casting itself. And despite my recent comments about getting back the excitement that comes from dragging heavy nymphs through the depths, and hooking the occasional lunker that lives there, what I enjoy most is the silky smooth cast of a light, soft rod and a light line.
My interest in seiryu rods stems in part from the softness of the rods and the unbelievable ease with which they cast a light tenkara line, coupled with the way they bend when you catch even modest fish.
I had two rods I wanted to fish with Sunday, one a 3.9 meter rod and one a 4.5 meter rod. I expected to like the 3.9 but I didn't expect to like the 4.5. Coming back to the casting vs. catching, one of the things I value more and more in a rod is light weight. Longer rods weigh more. Not only that, the center of gravity is further away from your hand, so when holding the rod or casting the rod it feels a lot heavier in relation to the shorter rod than just the actual weight difference would suggest. It seems to me that once a rod gets longer than about 3.9 or 4 meters, the gains from the added length are more than offset by the loss of enjoyment in fishing the rod.
I find that particularly true with respect to the popular tenkara rods. It's been a while ago now, but I did an essay on the "Long Rod, Short Line" approach to tenkara. In the essay, I used the Tenkara USA Ito, which is clearly the most popular long tenkara rod in the US. The technique is incredibly productive (and I'm really very surprised that so few people other than me have ever commented on it). The Ito, though, at 4.1 ounces, is a heavy rod. Well, the 4.5m rod I fished with Sunday weighs just 2 ounces and I have to think it would be a much more pleasant rod for the Long Rod, Short Line technique.
I did not use the Long Rod, Short Line technique Sunday. I was on a larger stream and used a more common line length (equal to the rod plus about 4' of 6X tippet) but I really liked the way the rod cast a size 3 line. I ended up liking the rod.
The rod, a Nissin SP 450, is softer than the Ito, but it held up well to this 11 incher. Would it hold up equally well to a 19 incher? I don't know. Where I fish, and possibly equally important, how I fish, makes catching a fish over about 16" a once a year occurrence. (Update: I have heard from an angler who has caught 19" and 20" trout on the Nissin SP 390. He said there was enough "rod" left to haul them back in after a run.)
Most of the fishing I do is for small wild trout. That may surprise some people who know that I live in New York City and ride the subway and commuter trains to go fishing, but it's true. Wild trout. They're there but they tend to be small. I'm sure that if the average fish I caught ran 16-18" I'd favor beefy rods. As it is, they average 6-8" and I favor rods that a six incher can put a bend in.
The parts of the country that have headwaters trout streams have lots of those 6-8" trout - well, maybe 5-7" trout with a few 8 inchers and the rare 12" king of the stream that will make you wonder if your tippet will hold up. For those people who find the idea of a 12" trout breaking their tippet to be laughable, all I can say is if the largest fish you can reasonably expect to catch can't be reasonably expected to win the battle, at least some of the time, then you're missing out on a whole lot of excitement. If your gear is so substantial that every hooked fish ends up in the net, where is the excitement?
Those areas of the country that don't have headwaters trout streams do have sunfish, though, and a good sized sunfish would put up a tremendous fight on one of these softer rods. Early on, I was concerned that tenkara anglers fishing for bluegills would catch bass that a tenkara rod couldn't handle. I suggested using the Amago, which would stand up to the bass, but like the Ito, is heavy enough that I don't ever fish with it anymore.
So far, hooking a rodbreaker bass has not happened to me. I go out with a buddy in his canoe. He fishes a spinning rod and Senkos. I fish a tenkara rod and sakasa kebari. He catches bass, with a rare bluegill; and I catch bluegills with a rare bass. Could it happen? Sure, but that's what 6X tippet is for. You'll lose the bass but save your rod.
The 3.9m rod, a Nissin SP 390, was even nicer than the 4.5 - largely because it weighs only 1.5 ounces. Like the longer rod, it cast a size 3 line so well it is hard to accept that it wasn't designed for it. Really. For those people who have never tried casting a size 3 tenkara line on a seiryu rod you're in for a shock. Smooth as silk.
For streams that are too tight for a 4.5m rod the Long Rod, Short Line technique will still work with a 3.9m rod. And if the stream is too tight for that, you might want to go all the way down to a 2.9m rod with a rod-length line (plus tippet - or even including tippet for really small streams.) If you happen to live where small streams do not have a canopy of overhead branches, a light 3.9m rod makes an excellent choice.
All in all it was a good day. My feet got cold and I only caught two fish but I had a lot of fun casting the rods.