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

Two Fly Tenkara

In September I was in Idaho for a press event hosted by Patagonia. The purpose was to go into deep detail about their 2016 line of waders. As a newly minted Patagonia ambassador, I was along to talk about Patagonia’s approach to tenkara.

SFF BookAn added benefit was having Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s owner and hardcore tenkara proponent, join us for the three days. Chouinard and two colleagues, Craig Mathews and Mauro Mazzo have written a book, entitled Simple Fly Fishing, on simple techniques for fly-fishing and tenkara and this was a chance to see some of Chouinard’s techniques in practice.

Chouinard and Patagonia are committed to using tenkara and the simple techniques it requires to get more people into fly-fishing and as a side benefit, become stewards of the natural world.

Tenkara, for me, has always shone as a dry fly technique, so I was intrigued when Chouinard talked about using tenkara to fish two soft hackles, downstream. He said it was his preferred way of teaching people how to use a tenkara set up because it was so effective.

Most of the people who participated in the event had never fished with a tenkara rod and some had never fly-fished at all. To his credit, Chouinard took these folks under his wing and using his technique, quickly had them catching fish after fish.

This is a downstream fishing technique that may fly in the face of some long held fly-fishing conventions. I saw it work with others time and time again, used it myself and now I’m a believer. The key is keeping the line tight so you can connect with the fly and the fish.


If you are fishing a 10-foot, six-inch or 11-foot rod use 20 feet of floating line. 20 feet may seem long to those of us in the east but on the western rivers it was just the ticket. I have tried the technique on my local spring creeks and shortened the line to 14 feet.

A seven-foot, six-inch leader is attached to the line with a perfection or double surgeon’s knot. I adapted this for our local water by cutting 2 feet off the butt end of the leader, making it 5 feet, 6 inches. I know this seems like a large knot and it would be for dry flies, but the goal is to keep tension on the line and the drag from the knot helps.

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.


A word of caution here; two fly rigs, if not cast well, can become a tangle very quickly, so casting fundamentals are key. The most fundamental of fundamentals is keep slack out of the system.

fliesWe were using soft hackles and I heartily recommend them. The point fly is tied to the end of the tippet and will be the larger, bushier or heavier of the two flies. The dropper will be smaller or lighter and tied in above the point fly. Two flies give the fish two food choices, help straighten the line as you fish and most importantly, the flies have two different actions in the water.

The easiest way to tie on the dropper was with a dropper loop, a separate piece of tippet attached to the leader above the point fly. Here is how you do it. Tie in a length of tippet for the point fly, say 3 feet. Now take six to nine inches of the same size tippet and tie a perfection loop or double surgeons knot on one end.

Hitch the section of tippet to the leader by taking the tag end through the loop and tightening it above the knot to the last section of tippet. Tie your fly to the tag end and you are set to go.

Chouinard shared a tip with me about this; use regular nylon tippet for the point fly, but stiffer fluorocarbon for the dropper. The stiffer fluoro helps keep the dropper away from the main leader/tippet reducing tangles.


Make a quartering (45-degree) downstream cast. As soon as the flies are in the water make an upstream mend. Yes, upstream. Upstream mends will get the slack out and not swing those soft hackles too fast, they are nymph imitations after all, not streamers. The two flies and the bulky knots will help keep the line tight so you can feel any hits. The key is to maintain direct control of the flies.

When the flies are downstream you can make subtle twitches to the two flies by putting your thumb on top of the rod and squeezing the cork with your fingers. You don’t want to make big moves, just a small twitch to make the soft hackle pulse. Time and again I saw fish hit at the end of the twitch, their predator instinct hard at work.


Those of you who like fishing dries like I do will also benefit from this technique. Substitute a caddis, stimulator or terrestrial for the dropper and with a bit of practice you will have that dropper hopping rather than skittering or swimming. In one run out west, using this hopping caddis technique, I brought a dozen rainbows to hand in less than half an hour.


While I’m still a devout member of the church of the dead drift, I saw firsthand how this simple technique had rank beginners catch fish in short order. It opened my eyes to another way of introducing new people to tenkara and helping them unlock the door to more enjoyable time on the water.

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

Products mentioned and shown here are available at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing.


The Guide’s Magic Wand

We all have them, those days when the fish are rising but the client just can’t seem to get the fly to the target. Usually, it is someone new to fly-fishing but sometimes it is an old hand who just seems to be one step behind in the process. You would really love to have them dead drift a dry to those risers but they just can’t get the mend right or they keep lining the fish. You want them to hook up but they just can’t put it together.

Guides are known for their fish catching wizardry and most of us have a trick or two up our sleeves that helps get our clients into fish.

Let me suggest another tool for the toolbox: tenkara.

There is plenty of info about tenkara in these pages —what it is, how it works, what you need to help you get started. But let me see if I can convince you to add using a tenkara rod to your guide repertoire of fish catching tricks.


The tenkara rod is lightweight and easy to rig up. You can carry a rod and a line in your vest and hardly know it is there. It takes about a minute and a half to rig up.

The tenkara rod is easy to use. Five minutes with a client and they will be adept at the casting stroke. Also, explaining how to use one is very basic; “cast the fly over there, keep the fly in the water and the line off the water…” Its as simple as that. Your client is tasked with the same fish catching requirements as they are with a traditional rod, reel and line — but executing is dramatically simpler with a tenkara rod, creating a quicker path to success and potentially building the foundation for a lifetime of fly-fishing.

The tenkara rod is fun to catch fish with. My good friend and colleague Dusty Wissmath says, “the size of the smile is directly proportional to the bend in the rod.” And if you don’t already know, let me tell you, a tenkara rod bends a lot; even an eight-inch brook trout will put big smile on the clients face, hook up on a fast moving rainbow or brown in the 16-18 range and they will never forget it.


To the skeptics and doubters out there, there are no hard feelings. If you think tenkara is a passing fancy, so be it. But in the last few years I have seen a seachange in the attitude in the industry about tenkara. In a recent AFFTA board meeting, Steve Bendzak of Simms remarked “tenkara has been the savior of the industry. Many people want a new A River Runs Through It. Well now, if the industry embraces tenkara, we will experience new comers to sport at a level that trumps that.”

Mark Harbaugh of Patagonia noted, “we have introduced approximately 6,000 people to fly fishing with tenkara. We feel that by getting women and kids introduced to the sport in an easy, simplified way, we can develop new stewards for the resources and environment that we have not been able to do through the fishing industry.”

We all enjoyed the “Lefty no tenkara” stickers floating around but Lefty’s thinking has evolved. “I think it has the potential to add a lot of fly fisherman to the sport,” he recently told me at IFTD.

And while many fly rod makers, other than Temple Fork Outfitters, have yet to embrace it, other industry brands seem to be taking notice. Umpqua is bringing more than a dozen tenkara specific flies to market. “it’s not going away, it’s a legitimate fishing application.” Said Brian Schmidt, Umpqua’s Fly Manager.

Schmidt is right, tenkara is not going away. And, if it helps gets more people fly-fishing and your clients catching fish — isn’t it worth a second look?

Go pick up a tenkara rod, spend sometime on the water with it and see for yourself how well it works. Not sure how to get started? Leave a comment or drop me a line, tom at fishtenkara dot com and I’ll be happy to help.

Let’s face it happy clients mean happy guides and repeat business. That’s the bottom line.

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

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.