Trip Report 9-17-16

The Limits of Zero Fishing

Saturday was not intended to be a keiyru trip or a microfishing trip, but it turned out to be a little of both. In recent weeks I've had a couple very productive trips. The first yielded the discovery that a soft tenkara or seiryu rod and a light tenkara line was well suited for fishing the "upstream worm" (Ultralight Worm Fishing). The second was a trip devoted to zero fishing, that subniche within keiryu that uses small hooks, light lines and soft rods for the ultimate in ultralight fishing (Trip Report 9-10-16). For the second trip, I used a Suntech Suikei ZPRO, which has been discontinued. I did mention in the report, though, that Suntech has four rods in their current offerings that are rated for tippets down to 10X or lighter.

My intention for Saturday's trip was to try all four of those 10X rated rods with Varivas 10X tippet but to try the zero fishing techniques with flies rather than bait. I knew from prior experience that you cannot "strike" or "set the hook" using 10X tippet. That will just break it. Thus, I needed a fly that did not require a hook set.

The hooks that to me are the hardest to handle without sticking myself (suggesting they'd stick fish without a hook set) are the Gamakatsu R10B hooks. I have used them very successfully with the Overhand Worm and they hold fish quite well despite being barbless.

Pink Chenille Worm with two R10-B hooks

For my 10X test, I tied a fly I'm tempted to call the "Wicked Worm" because with those two Gamakatsu R10B hooks, it just looks wicked. The chenille is the same same Pink Ultra Chenille Micro I use for the Pink Chenille worm and the Overhand Worm. The hooks are size 20. I could hardly pick the thing up without getting hooked myself, so I was pretty confident that I could catch fish by just tightening the line rather than by setting the hook.

What's that they say about best laid plans? Well, I got only one hit on the Wicked Worm, and after just a couple thrashes on the surface the fish got off. It looked like it was a nice fish, too. (I later learned that I probably would have lost it anyway.)

In addition to the Wicked Worm, I also fished a Killer Kebari tied with Utah Killer Bug yarn, which I don't think I'd ever tried before, but I got no hits on it at all. The water was low and clear, there was no insect activity on the surface and the day was sunny, so that might have had something to do with the fly getting no love.

However, I did have a Plan B, which over the course of the day proved to be quite successful.

How I hook worms. Once crosswise with a very small hook

If you read anything on the internet or watch any YouTube videos on worm fishing, almost all will tell you to thread the worm onto the hook. They will occasionally say you should use a small hook (suggesting a size 8!). Most will show a nightcrawler or at the very least a worm that is probably 4 inches long.

I would suggest a different approach. The worm in the photo above is a red wiggler, and is about an inch and half long - maybe two inches when fully stretched out. The hook is a size 30 Varivas 2300 midge hook. The tippet is 10X Varivas. With a soft rod, and a smooth, gentle cast, you can easily cast a worm hooked this way and it will not come off the hook. I found it easiest to hold the hook in a pair of Dr. Slick Spring Creek Clamps, which have very pointy jaws, and to quickly run the hook point in and back out so it remains exposed.

The trip was intended to be a test of the zero fishing approach so I intentionally used the smallest readily available hook and thinnest readily available tippet. For general use, I would scale up both a bit - perhaps to a size 20 hook and tippet of 8X to no more than 6X, depending on the size of the fish. However, I would still recommend a small worm! In many cases, I have caught fish when I only had about half the worm left. Remember, trout are used to eating small things! Plus, you really do want the bait to be small enough that the hook is definitely in the mouth when the fish grabs the bait.

Brook trout in net

I'd have to say I was more than a little surprised at the effectiveness of such a small hook. I think I only missed one hit - maybe two. I suspect that if a fish is not trying to spit out the hook, the hook is going to catch just about every time even if it is a very small hook. I have definitely missed more fish when fishing with larger hooks, probably because the fish feels the hook and spits out the worm before I can react.

Reacting, in this case, is just tightening the line, not striking. It is a hard habit to break, though, and before I broke the habit I broke the 10X tippet twice on hook sets. After a while I settled down, just tightened the line and started catching fish.

In most cases, the hits were subtle. I never had a case on Saturday where the line shot to the side by a foot. I think that only happens in really small streams where a fish darts out to take your fly or bait and then darts back under an overhanging bank or under a rock. In most cases on Saturday the line just stopped. At that point, it could be a rock or it could be a fish. If you just tighten the line it is easy to tell, though. Rocks don't wiggle.

And the fish didn't come off! The fish were always well hooked, generally right at the upper lip. The light size 2.5 Nissin Oni Tenkara line is sensitive enough as a strike indicator that none of the fish had time to swallow the worm, so there were no cases of deeply hooked fish. You have to react instantly but not aggressively. Tighten, don't jerk.

Angler holding brook trout

I think this was the largest fish I landed Saturday, probably about 7 1/2 inches, and certainly no more than 8. I did hook two that were larger. Both broke the 10X tippet. I would guess the smaller of the two was about 10".

And that, to me at least, shows the limits of the zero fishing approach. At least with my level of skill, a tippet as light as 10X is only good for fish under about 10 inches. There aren't many "zero fishing" videos on YouTube, but in the ones I've seen, none of the fish that were caught looked like they'd reach 10 inches. I do fish a few places where most of the fish are under 10" - but not all! I do want to land the fish I hook, and I don't want to leave hooks in the fish.

Given that a 10" fish can break 10X tippet, I don't think I will use it for trout fishing any more. I have ordered some 9X tippet to try, but I suspect I will go heavier than that most of the time. I have done very well with 8X tippet (and although I have had a few fish break 8X, I've had fish break 5X, too). Most keiryu rods are rated down to 7X, and even 7X is a good compromise between the great drifts you can get with lighter tippets and strength you need to land fish at least into the low teens (inches, not pounds). Plus, it is within the manufacturer's suggested tippet range for rods like the Suntech Kurenai and Nissin Pocket Mini, both of which would work nicely with the Ultralight Worm Fishing approach.

Suntech's 10X Tippet Rods

Suntech Fine Power NP66

It's no secret that I like long rods. It's no secret that I like soft rods. It should come as no surprise that I liked all four of the rods! They're all different, though.

The first rod of the day was the Suntech Fine Power NP66. I've fished with a Fine Power NP56 a few times and I liked the rod well enough that I wanted to see what the NP66 was like. Well, it's just more of a good thing!

In keiryu rods, longer means a little heavier. It also means more inertia to help load the rod when you are casting, so a longer rod also feels softer. I have fished with a few 7m rods, and with only one exception they were just heavy enough that I preferred the next shorter length - which depending on the rod was a 6.0 or 6.3m rod. The Suntech Fine Power NP66 is just enough shorter than 7m and just enough lighter that it doesn't feel either too long or too heavy.

I was very happy with the way the rod cast 20' of size 2.5 Nissin Oni tenkara line. You really can reach way out there and still get great drifts because the length of the rod allows you to keep nearly all the line off the surface.

The rod has a progressive flex so the casting is very smooth. The rod is soft enough that I felt comfortable with the 10X tippet once I learned (again) to just tighten the line rather than strike to set the hook.

Angler holding brook trout and Suntech Fine Power

Suntech Kaname Special 60

The Suntech Kaname Special says "Super Sensitive" and it really is! It is just a bit firmer than Suntech's other 10X rods. It's not too firm, though.

Suntech Kaname Special - Super Sensitive

Since I learned my lesson on the Fine Power, I never broke the 10X tippet fishing with the Kaname Special, and I was able to consistently cast the worm without losing it. Although it cast the size 2.5 line well, it is just firm enough that I think I would pair the rod with a size 3 line if I was going to use the rod as a big water tenkara rod.

Although I have fished weighted nymphs successfully with the other three rods, this is the one that is the best suited for it. On Saturday I was fishing by sight rather than by feel, but with the slightly firmer Kaname Special, you will be able to feel the hits better than with the other rods. I don't think I would choose the rod for fishing extremely heavy nymphs, but for modestly weighted nymphs and thin tippets, oh, yeah!

Suntech Aoi ZPRO 58

The Aoi ZPRO is definitely a tip flex rod - much more so than the now-discontinued Suikei ZPRO, and more than I remember the Daiwa EP Zero or the Daiwa Tryan Zero to be. Although the bend profile is different than the Daiwa zero rods, the tip sections are soft enough that a fish can take your fly or bait without being alarmed by tension on the line.

The Aoi ZPRO cast the size 2.5 tenkara line very nicely indeed. The rod is quite a bit more of tip flex rod than the Fine Power (even adjusting for the length - when I got home I compared the Aoi ZPRO 58 with the Fine Power 56 as well). The different bend profile changes the way the rod feels when casting, but doesn't change its effectiveness - either for casting or for landing fish.

Angler holding Suntech Aoi ZPRO 58

A firmer midsection does help in getting hook sets when fishing in deeper water (with stronger tippets). On Saturday, the water I was fishing ranged from mid calf to mid thigh. I was not using much weight, though, (only a pair of #10 Dinsmore split shot) so I although I did get caught on some rocks while fishing in the shallower water I doubt I got all the way to the bottom in the deeper sections.

In any event, I did not have any trouble hooking the fish. I am sure that was largely because the fish did not spit out the worm and the size 30 hook does not require a "hook set." All I had to do was tighten the line, and even a very soft-tipped zero rod can do that.

Suntech FMX Keiryu ZPRO 53

The Suntech FMX Keiryu ZPRO 53 is a soft, full flex rod. It was very well suited to the slow, smooth casting style I used Saturday to keep from tearing the worm off the hook when casting. To be sure, even with the Kaname Special, which was the firmest of the four rods, I never had a problem keeping the worm on the hook, but the FMX Keiryu ZPRO is just so smooth that it seemed ideal for this style of fishing.

Angler holding brook trout

Despite being a soft rod, I did not have any problem hooking fish with it on Saturday. Granted, I suspect I didn't have enough weight on the line to get very deep, but by just tightening the line I got a positive hook set every time with this rod. The largest fish of the day did break off when I was fishing with the FMX Keiryu ZPRO 53, but I think 10X tippet may be too light to hold a fish over about 10" no matter what rod you have.

Of the four rods, this is the one I have fished with the most. It is the softest of the four, but it is also the one I have caught the largest fish with (although not on this trip). A soft rod is perfectly capable of tiring a large fish, as long as you don't run out of bend (when the fish has pulled so hard and is now so far away that your rod is fully bent all the way to the rod butt and cannot bend any further without possibly breaking). With a long rod of 5.3 or 6.3m, I have yet to run out of bend. Of course, if you are fishing 10X tippet, you will never run out of bend. The tippet will break first.

Lunchtime Micro

On the Tenkara Micro Fishing Facebook page I was once asked if cheese would work as bait for micros. I replied that I didn't know. Now I do. It does.

Angler holding tanago hook baited with bit of cheese

As I often do, I sat on a rock in the shallows to eat my lunch. I soon noticed micros right beside the rock. Unlike on my Micro Fishing Gear - Don't Leave Home Without It - II essay,  I didn't bring a micro fishing rod with me. I did have some micro fishing hooks, though, and the same rod concept was easy to recreate by just taking the tip section from one of the keiryu rods. Inside of a few minutes I had a functional micro rod and was fully rigged. With the bend of the Owner Smallest hook I scooped a bit of the cheese from my sandwich and I was ready to go.

Angler holding extremely small black nose dace

I had seen what looked like a very small Slimy Sculpin (possible but highly unlikely) or Tesselated Darter, which I was hoping to catch, but by the time I got my gear together it was gone. I lowered the hook in front of the nearest fish that I saw and it took it immediately. Unfortunately, I did not bring my photo tank, which would have helped with the ID, but I believe it is a blacknose dace. I caught a very small blacknose dace last  year, but I think this one is a bit smaller. Judging by the width of my thumb, I figure it is just under an inch long.

There were smaller fish, but the Owner Smallest was clearly too large for them. I should make sure to have some Gamakatsu Ultimate with me! Based on how they looked compared to the one I caught, I do think they would have met the Japanese goal of fitting entirely on a one yen coin! For comparison, a one yen coin is 20mm in diameter (a penny is just over 19mm). I still have a ways to go.

All in all, it was a good day. I got to fish some long, soft rods and I caught a lot of fish. The fish weren't big, but they were big enough that they won a few of the fights. 

And I'm sure with the right hooks I can catch even smaller fish!

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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