Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Tenkara Mouse!

Fish with a tenkara rod long enough and you will start looking for ways to push the envelope. It is the nature of fishing and anglers, but especially that of fly fishers.

As Mossy Creek Fly Fishing’s tenkara guide, the notion of catching one of our spring creek browns or rainbows using a mouse pattern and a tenkara rod has always intrigued me. Last summer, we dabbled around with it and you only need to see the award-winning film Blood Knot to see the result (Spoiler alert: Brian Trow catches and lands a 19” brown trout with a mouse on a tenkara rod. It is one of the more exciting “eats” in a film chock full of exciting eats).

The Mossy Creek Fly Fishing guides gather two or three Friday evenings a month to down a few PBRs, try out some new flies or just put a challenge on each other. We call it “Fishing Friday.” It is invitation only and very ad hoc.

Earlier this month, I had a chance to replicate Brian’s tenkara mouse mastery during a recent Fishing Friday “mouse only” challenge, landing a 19’ brown trout. That sealed the deal as far mousing as goes -it went from a novelty to a “go to.”

The Set Up

For a tenkara mousing rod, I like the Tenkara USA Ito. As a “zoom rod” — going from 13 feet to 14 feet 6 inches — it has the reach needed to get up and over the weed beds in the water and the tall grass along the banks of spring creeks like Mossy and Beaver here in the Valley. It also has the backbone to cast a big fly and land big fish.

In order to turn over the wind resistant mouse pattern, I use a 14 or 16 foot light floating line that we customize here at the shop. I like the ability to “anchor” a small portion of the line on the water during the presentation and also to “steer” the mouse a bit with the line. I go short and heavy on the leader/tippet combination, running about three to four feet of 3x from the end of the fly line.

The Presentation

Many folks think that nighttime is the right time for mousing and I won’t disagree, but on a very recent guiding gig we had a frenzy of activity at 3:30 PM, in bright sunlight. Brian caught the brown mentioned above in the early afternoon on a bright July day last year.

First, you have to think like a mouse. Look at your surroundings, take note of where you are fishing and think about how and where a field mouse could get in trouble and wind up in the water. That is where you want to aim your cast.

Next, think about what happens when they hit the water. Mice and other small rodents are not designed to swim and it shows in the water. Think about a dog in the water, they are mostly underwater, with just their back and head above the surface. Same with the mouse, mostly just its head is above the water. They have spurts of activity then tire and dead drift. Mice are not going swim long distances or for long periods of time. All these details factor into your presentation.

When you can, make a quartering upstream cast. You aren’t going for a delicate presentation here, you want a splash close to the bank. Mice don’t just fall from the sky like spinners. Make the cast, let the mouse pop to the surface (if it doesn’t get eaten when it hits) and then twitch it a bit. Don’t go wild with the twitches. Try and let it drift near the bank if the current runs that way. If the current moves it toward the middle, then start fishing it like a surface streamer. Short quick twitches followed by a dead drift seem to work well. When the mouse swings around and heads up stream, unless you are in an eddy or really slow moving water, you can start to recast — mice don’t swim upstream to well.

The Trade Secret

On a recent tenkara mousing excursion, after a few good presentations the fish were simply ignoring our offerings. We knew the fish were there, because we could see them. They weren’t spooked and we watched them take a nymph now and then. Of course we could have switched to a dry-dropper or a nymph rig, but instead I tied on a weighted nymph off the hook bend of the mouse.mouse-dropper

It didn’t take more than a couple of casts before the fish started showing interest in the mouse and the nymph and the client connected with a nice 16” rainbow.

The “mouse-dropper” rig has some distinct advantages when fishing a mouse. First, the weighed nymph sinks the back end of the mouse pattern, making for a more realistic representation. Second, the nymph acts like a sea anchor and helps keep the mouse in the seam or current. Finally, and most obviously, is the fact that you have the nymph there to offer the fish if they don’t want the mouse.

Author’s note: This article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

Tenkara Jamming in Maryland

tenkara jam 2015 logoExcuse my indulgence in a little local tenkara cheerleading.

Last October I went to North Carolina for the first Appalachian Tenkara Jam. The Jam was the brainchild of Jason Sparks and Lance Milks who had been mulling the idea of a tenkara gathering for a number of years.

The gathering they had in mind would bring multiple vendors together so participants would have a chance to get some hands-on time with different products. There would also be presentations by tenkara savvy folks who wanted to share tips and tactics they have picked up from experience.

I asked Sparks why he thinks the “Jam” concept worked.

“Something magic is happening here. It is fantastic to see a wide selection of tenkara companies coming together under one roof to unite in our growing community. This is the leading edge of things to come.”

As with most first year events the numbers were small, but the concept and the quality of presentations was huge.

Here is the cheerleading and good news.

The second Appalachian Tenkara Jam will be held July 11, and 12, at Summit Manor in Herford, Maryland. The concept is the same, lots of product to test and compare, savvy speakers and some pretty nice water to tenkara in (FYI, felt soles are banned in Maryland).

“For everyone looking to feel a tenkara rod in their hands for the first time, Jam offers more than 50 models from 15 brands to choose from,” said Sparks. “There is no where else in the United States where this can be done. Period.”

Try It and Buy It

Here is the current list of vendors that will have tenkara gear available to try and buy.

Great Feathers
Tenkara USA
Tenkara Bum
Zen Fly Fishing
Riverworks Tenkara
DRAGONtail Tenkara
Tenkara Customs
Moonlit Fly Fishing
Badger Tenkara
Temple Fork Outfitters

You can think of the “Jam” as a tenkara specific a trade-consumer show hybrid. You have a chance to put different rods in you hands and cast them. You can try different types of lines, different lengths and customize setups so you can see what works for you. And if you like what you find, you can buy it on-site.

Kebari Swap

New this year is a kebari (fly) swap July 11. Here is how it works. You can either tie or buy a dozen flies to contribute to the swap. Japanese style kebari are preferred but any tenkara suitable fly will be OK. In return for your contribution you will get back a randomly picked selection of one dozen flies. This is a great way to get some interesting tenkara flies to try.

Here is a list of the speakers and presentations.

Robert Worthing, Tenkara Guides, LLC: Wrangling big fish.
Chris Stewart, Tenkara Bum: Long rods & short lines.
Daniel Galhardo, Tenkara USA: Japanese lessons; small lessons from Tenkara masters.
Rob Lepczyk, Great Feathers Fly Shop: Local waters; the mighty Gunpowder.
Lance Milks, Appalachian Tenkara Guide: Traditional kebari history.
Adam Omernick, Zen Fly Fishing Gear: Strategic approach for higher productivity.
John Cianchetti, Tenkara Customs: DIY tenkara rods.
Al Alborn, Project Healing Waters: Working with wounded vets.

There will likely be additional presentations added to the schedule, which is still being developed.

While hands-on opportunities and gathering information is fundamental to events like these, what is really the most valuable aspect is the networking that leads to friendship and one-to-one knowledge sharing.

“The gathering of tenkara anglers may be the best part of it all,” said Sparks. “Here is a chance to get a huge number of people together with a common interest. That is where the real magic is. These friendships are special.”

If you are interested in tenkara, the “Jam” is shaping up to be one of the best chances to see, hear and talk tenkara this year.

Author’s note: This article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

Gathering of the Clans

TJam2014Recently I was at the Virginia Fly Fishing and Wine festival as part of the Mossy Creek Fly Fishing crew. At the festival, I gave four on-the-water tenkara demonstrations, two each day. At each demo, 30-50 people came down to watch, wiggle the rods and ask questions.

I am giving more and more presentations each year and I’m not alone. A quick scan of Facebook will show you a number of other people giving individual presentations all over the country.

The really exciting thing that is happening is the growing number of tenkara specific gatherings taking place. I have been to a few in the past and they are a great chance to learn techniques and tactics, see a variety of products and network with tenkara enthusiasts.

Tenkara, once considered a passing fancy, has truly become a movement.

Midwest Tenkara Fest

Organized by Matt Sment of Badger Tenkara, The Midwest Tenkara Fest is the weekend of May 2 and 3 in Coon Valley, Wisconsin.

I spent time with Matt last fall and he is both an ambassador for tenkara and the Driftless Area of the Midwest. The Driftless contains hundreds of miles of spring-fed limestone streams that are home to plenty of trout. It is an overlooked trout fishing gem in the heartland of the country.

Matt and his committee have brought together an impressive group of vendors and presenters. Coon Creek runs along the festival site (American Legion Post) so there will be on-the-water presentations during the festival and plenty of local fishing.

“Tenkara till the cows come home” is the tag line for this gathering and you can get all the details on their website Midwest Tenkara Fest.

Appalachian Tenkara Jam

Hosted by Great Feathers Fly Shop, The 2015 Tenkara Jam is the weekend of July 11 and 12 in Herford, Maryland.

Appalachian Tenkara Jam is the brainchild of two North Carolina tenkaranistas, Jason Sparks and Lance Milk. This is the second year for the “Jam” and is shaping up to be a good as the first. I had the pleasure of being a presenter at last year’s Jam in Boone, North Carolina and hope to be able to get to at this years event as well.

Planning is in the beginning stages but given the experience of last year I have complete confidence this Jam will be as well executed as the first one. The Gunpowder River is nearby and is an excellent trout fishing venue and common destination for fly fishers in Northern Virginia, DC and Maryland.

Sparks recently posted, “There will be more tenkara expertise in this room on these two days then you will find all yearlong anywhere else on the East Coast.”

You can get details as they become available on their website, Appalachian Tenkara Jam.

Tenkara Summit

Organized by Tenkara USA, The 2015 Tenkara Summit is Sept. 19, in Estes Park, Colorado.

This is the fifth summit for Tenkara USA and the second one in Colorado. I was a presenter at the first one in West Yellowstone, Montana and was part of the Mossy Creek Fly Fishing crew that hosted 2013 Summit here in the Shenandoah Valley.

Since it is not until September, details are slim but they do have lodging info up on the Tenkara USA summit website since this is a popular destination. You can also see last year’s schedule to get a good idea what 2015 is apt to be like. With five years of experience under their belts they know how to make things work and provide a lot of solid information.

There is fishing on-site and the Rocky Mountain National Park close by.

Author’s note: Author’s note: This article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

Teach with tenkara!

North Branch TenkaraStand around with a group of fly fishers and mention tenkara and the response can be both enlightening and entertaining. Tenkara evokes strong responses from some while it is ignored by others because it doesn’t fit the more common image of modern fly fishing.

But, haters are going to hate and I have no interest in getting into a prolonged discussion with haters of any stripe. On the other hand, every day more and more people are looking into tenkara and becoming interested in fly fishing because of it.

As a guide for Mossy Creek Fly Fishing, I work hard to give my clients the very best experience possible on the water. I have a fairly extensive bag of tricks to reach into to make the magic happen. Tenkara is one of those tricks. And whether you are a guide or just someone who would like to get a friend, spouse, parent or family member into fly fishing you may want to look at tenkara as a teaching tool.

Here are some ways tenkara can help.

Patting your head and rubbing your stomach

One of the bumps in the road for beginning fly fishers is shooting line. It requires both coordination and practice. When I teach, I use the ability to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time as an example.

If someone is struggling with shooting line, having an alternative to effectively present the fly can make the difference in having a successful fishing trip. Because it is fixed line fishing, tenkara eliminates the need to shoot line. You just cast the fly to the target and keep the line off the water.

If you need to mend it does that mean it is broken?

I first heard “if you need to mend something than it must be broken” from Daniel Galhardo of Tenkara USA and that simple truth stuck with me. When you cast a fly and put your line in moving water you invariably have to adjust the line or “mend” it to keep the fly in the strike zone.

All to often mending becomes a challenge for rookie fly-fishers. It takes time and experience to read water and the currents so that when you do mend the line you are not doing more harm than good. Too often fish get spooked or flies get pulled farther out of the target area because of improper mending techniques.

With tenkara, you fish a very light line with a very flexible rod, which keeps most of the line off the water and away from the impacts of currents. If the line is off the water, then you don’t need to mend it; simple as that.

Right hand or left hand retrieve?

What hand do you reel with? I am righty and I reel with my right hand. I feel really awkward when I have to reel with my left. Beginners, not used to reeling often reel the wrong way or have trouble using a reel that is set up so they have to reel with their off hand.

Playing a fish with a bunch of line off the spool can also lead to some issues for new anglers (and some experienced anglers as well). Line gets tangled, snagged or just goes flying up the rod. In most cases, that means a lost fish.

Obviously, tenkara rods don’t have reels. No reel, no reel problems.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be

Let’s face it, we worry about our gear. When we lend a fly fishing outfit to a friend or client we get a little uptight thinking about what can go wrong. I have “guiding” rods and reels and then I have my personal gear. Not too many fingerprints other than mine are on my personal gear.

After five years with teaching and guiding tenkara, I have yet to have a friend or client break a tenkara rod, and the risk of losing or dinging up a good reel is nonexistent (see above.)

Because tenkara is still fairly new, I am often loaning out my rods to other anglers that show interest. A quick lesson on the right way to extend and collapse the rod and word of caution about not using the rod to get flies out of trees (pull on the line instead of the rod) and we are off.

Sure tenkara rods can be broken; I’ve broken a few myself. But the risk of damaged gear is greatly reduced.

Sharing the fun of fly fishing can be as rewarding as the fishing itself. Having a simple, easy-to-use tool at your disposal can make the sharing that much more enjoyable. If you don’t have a tenkara rod, you might want to pick one up and give it a try and share it with someone who just wants to go fishing.

Author’s note: This article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

Picking a favorite tenkara rod


The popularity of tenkara has given anglers an opportunity to chose from a variety of rods. In fact, at last count, there were more than a dozen U.S. based companies selling tenkara rods. Having that many options can make things confusing.

Folks just starting their tenkara journey may find this many choices intimidating and be concerned about the research required in making a sound rod purchasing decision. Those who have taken up tenkara, used to just a few options, now face unfamiliar names and performance characteristics.

I asked a few of my favorite tenkara groups, “If you had to pick your favorite rod -just one- what would it be and most importantly why?” I asked because I wanted to learn what characteristics make a favorite.

Whether you are new to tenkara or an old hand, the myriad choices of rods makes it more likely you will find a rod (or really more likely, rods) that you enjoy fishing with. Here are some things to consider.

In describing how a rod performs, “feel” is a common description. Feel is pretty subjective however, so terms like, weight, action and balance are all part of the equation. “Well balanced” trumped weight in many cases and action helped refine the preference. Of note: the line you use can affect feel and some rods feel better casting a specific type of weight of line.

Tenkara rods, when compared to other types of fly rods, are extremely slow. That said, how tenkara rods flex throughout the rod varies enough to be notable. Some rods have soft tip sections and stiffer mid and butt sections, others are more full flex with a relatively stiffer tip. Here, looking at what you are fishing for and the flies you will use may lead to a preference. Soft tip rods may feel better with heavier furled or floating lines. More full flexing rods may feel better with level lines or lighter tapered lines.

For some, the ability to adjust the length of a rod is an important consideration. The convenience of multi length rods makes the tenkara experience more enjoyable. A single, adjustable rod can fish more or different water precluding the need to carry multiple rods. The ability to change lengths at will gives you a variety of presentations at your fingertips.

The price range of rods available in the U.S. is remarkable, from less then $100 to well over $300. Surprisingly, price did not seem to be a big deal. Durability, warranty, and company reputation were all more important considerations when it came to determining overall value. Finish, fit and quality of workmanship were also cited as attributes for favorite rods.

The diversity of rod choices, the multitude of fish to chase, the wide variety of water to fish in and the very nature of humans all points to one common conclusion. The “one rod” is not out there. Favorites, sure, but as my friend TJ Ferreira said,

“Bottom line for me is that everyone here and there is fishing Tenkara, no matter the flavor, color, brand or method they use. So my favorite? Every single one.”

In the end the most intriguing part of this look at what makes one rod a favorite was how reminiscent it is to other forms of fly-fishing. You could hear similar discussions in any fly shop in the country. That may explain why tenkara is no longer considered the fad it once was.

Author’s note: This article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

What’s My Line

Mossy Creek - 9x3b
As the popularity of tenkara grows, tweaks and innovation are becoming the rule rather the exception. One area that has seen a good deal of change is the type of line being used.

If you are new to tenkara, the line is a key component in the setup. Like other forms of fly-fishing the line both loads the rod and delivers the fly but is not stored on a reel. It is a fixed length attached to the rod tip.

When I started with tenkara the line choices were pretty basic. You had a choice of furled lines or level lines. Today there are a variety of line options with more on the horizon. For example small diameter fly lines have recently become popular.
All are readily available and have their proponents, as you will see below.


Level lines are a single diameter of line. Materials are usually nylon, monofilament or fluorocarbon. Level line users pick a diameter to suit the fishing they are doing and the fly they are casting. Benefits include economy, the ability to adjust length easily and delicate presentations. A key component in selecting level lines is visibility. Clear lines are hard to see and regular level line users opt for bright, florescent colors like orange, pink or green.

Rob Worthing of Tenkara Guides LLC offered some important observations about picking level lines. “Level lines that are created specifically with fixed line fly-fishing in mind are 100 percent fluorocarbon, and are formulated to be stiff with little memory. The stiffness is important in holding the line off the water and keeping a direct connection to your fly.”

Because fluorocarbon is dense it has some key advantages according to Worthing.“The density improves casting. The low surface area to weight ratio is also why it excels in sinking flies. It is less apt to get pushed around by varying currents at different depths, allowing you to establish a more direct connection with your fly.”

Fishing with denser level lines also allows you to use a lighter line, which contributes to a key tenkara advantage; the ability to keep line off the water.

Chris Stewart of Tenkara Bum agrees with the advantage of a lighter line. “Even though heavier lines are easier to cast, they are harder to catch fish with. You can’t hold them off the water as well, so you can’t get the same drifts that you can get with lighter lines. Also, lighter lines have less inertia, so they are more sensitive, it takes less to make them twitch.”


Often furled lines are the first line new tenkara users try. Furled lines are multiple
strands of material that taper from thick to thin. They are similar to furled leaders used in other forms of fly-fishing but are usually longer. 11 feet to 13 feet are common and longer lengths are available. Most are made with Kevlar to reduce the “stretchiness” that comes from nylon or monofilament.

Customization is quite common in the furled line arena. Do it yourself furling jigs and videos are available for those who want a try building a line and personalize their rig. Kevin Kelleher’s book, Tenkara, Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing, has a chapter about making your own lines.

Two companies stand out in the furled line market, Moonlit Fly Fishing and Streamside Furled Leaders. Both offer a wide selection of lengths and designs.

Many people, myself included, like the “feel” of a furled line when casting. This often helps people make the transition from rod and reel to tenkara.


The use of very light floating lines has become more popular as tenkara anglers push the innovation envelope. The lines are the same as floating fly lines currently on the market just cut down to suit tenkara style of fly-fishing. They are usually level lines in small diameter, although some folks use lightweight tapered lines. Common sizes range from 0.022 diameter running line to two weight double taper.

The most common reason for using floating fly lines has been “castability.” Much like the tapered furled lines, fly rod and reel anglers picking up a tenkara rod find the feel of casting a floating line similar to what they are used to, helping make the transition to tenkara easier.

Floating lines are becoming more common and Patagonia offers 40 feet of 0.027-inch Cortland floating line made of a small-diameter, hard mono core and a supple PVC coating. Each package includes a seven-foot, six-inch, 3x leader. They retail for $24.95 and are available at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing.

Longer rods, stiffer actions and bigger flies have been some of the reason cited for using these types of line.

Matt Sment of Badger Tenkara is a big proponent of floating line and offered these observations. “Floating line has solidly become my preference. I believe it offers significant advantages, including – high durability, lowest cost over time (you can fish the same line for many seasons), exceptionally resistant to tangles in the first place and easy to untangle if you get one (you wont lose a line to a tangle), superior visibility, functions well below freezing temperatures, well suited to throwing larger/heavier flies, supports a wide variety of tactics (like ‘line as sight indicator,’) does not become waterlogged and change characteristics, and is very easy for beginners to learn on.”

Here in the Shenandoah Valley were I guide for Mossy Creek Fly Fishing, floating lines are my favorite for fishing large terrestrials, big bushy dries and dry-dropper rigs.

The desire to innovate has become a hallmark of tenkara here in the U.S. The range of line options and the ability to easily rig a rod with different lines is just another advantage of tenkara.

As Paul Vertress, head tenkara guide for RIGS Adventure Co., commented, “A couple of extra lines in your pocket weighs very little, and gives you so much more flexibility on different water and conditions. Simplicity + options = success.

Author’s note: A version of this article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.