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Wrong rod for Whitefish?

by Doug
(Bend, Oregon)

I headed out to the Crooked River in search of the December mountain whitefish action. The river is packed with whitefish, but usually you catch mostly trout. During the spawning season the whitefish action picks up, and if you find the right pool you can have a "many many" day..There is no limit on whitefish--this river has 6,000 per mile-- and I thought I'd fill the smoker if I found some.

The Crooked is a river in which I have yet to completely convert to Tenkara, so I brought my 5-wt as well as my Nissin 2 way 450 ZX soft. I started with the 5-wt, and had a little action, a few trout on a foam caddis indicator fly and one nice whitefish on a Utah Killer Bug dropper. Then I found the pool. I hooked and landed six more whitefish in short order. They were not too far out there so I thought I'd switch to the Tenkara rod.

Now the whitefish has a small and delicate mouth---one article I read stated:

" Soft hands are essential as a hard hook set will pull the fly out of the fish’s mouth. A good way to compensate for a lack of soft hands is to use a fly rod with a soft tip. "

And of course Chris has told us:

Tenkara rods aren’t designed for a normal fly rod set, they can’t handle it, and to be brutally honest, a normal fly rod set just isn’t necessary....
I’ve gotten to the point that my sets are little more than just line tightening. Often almost questioning “are you a rock or a fish?”

None of this sage advice worked. I hooked and lost four straight fish. Six for six on the 5-wt, and 0 for four on the Tenkara..tough for a budding Tenkara evangelist like me to take.

The drift was good though and they were biting better with the Tenkara rod than they were on the draggy floating line of the 5 wt, so I tried just giving them a good sidearm whack of a hook set. That worked, and I landed the next four fish, including a 17 incher. The rod handled everything just great. I had my load of fish to smoke and headed home.

I hate casting stiff rods, but I guess the tip of the the Nissin 2-way was just too soft for the fish and water depth. I have a Shimano Kozuka 39NT which is 33 pennies as opposed to the 21 penny Nissin. I'll go try it.

An aside: I usually smoke my fish with nothing but sea salt and apple wood. I avoid the sugary brine recipes. My smoked steelhead gets rave reviews. The whitefish came out pretty good, but seem a bit bitter, sometimes too salty, sometimes a bit bland. I have a another reason to try a stiffer rod---I want to compare a batch done in a salt-brown sugar brine.

Comments for Wrong rod for Whitefish?

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Dec 12, 2014
by: Stephen

I firmly believe, taught through life long experience, that it is the fisherperson, not the tackle, that catches the fish.
That being said, I find it difficult to resist any excuse to buy or make more tackle. Is there a Tackle Acquirers Anonymous?
Hello. My name is Stephen and boy do I have fishing tackle.
Lets eat some fish.

Dec 12, 2014
I have the answer
by: Chris Stewart

Stephen, I have the answer to your problem. There is a 12 step program (otherwise known as the Rod of the Month Club).

Dec 13, 2014
rod a month club
by: Doug

I don't usually buy more than a rod every two months----but if I keep slamming home the hooks (which really did work) I probably could go through one a month.

Dec 13, 2014
Whitefish/Prince Nymph
by: Paul Arnold

If you add a Prince Nymph to your selection of whitefish flies, you might be able to get even more practice in hooksetting.

The pattern could be varied by including a reverse hackle, of course. But then (if you are willing to elevate the Prince to an Emperor) you would have a Sakasa Mikado.

Dec 13, 2014
by: Alan Luecke

In the world of musicians this condition is referred to as GAS, gear acquisition syndrome. Generally considered incurable but seldom terminal.

Dec 13, 2014
by: Chris Stewart

Among musicians perhaps not, but among fishermen, it's definitely terminal. Terminal tackle is often at the very heart of the condition. Which lure? Which fly? Well, the newest one of course! (Except for collectors, for whom it is the oldest one.) And then, there's the one your buddy caught fish with when you got skunked.

Definitely terminal, but treatable. The best treatment is fish slime, applied to the palm. Frequently.

Alan is correct. It isn't a cure, but it does reduce the urges.

Dec 13, 2014
prince nymph
by: Doug

Yeah,I've heard the prince nymph is the best whitefish fly,so I started with one and had a hit on it. I changed to the Utah Killer Bug and the action really picked up. Maybe it was just the spots I fished it, but that was the fastest 10 whitefish I've caught there.

Obviously I now have a good reason to get several more versions of each fly, and a few more rods to work out the best setup.

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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

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