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

Rick Bach, Tenkara and the EBTJV

When I got a note from Rick Bach asking about trout fishing in Maryland I wrote back saying I was not much on Maryland but would be happy to take him to the mountains in Virginia to fish for brook trout with a tenkara rod. Rick being an adventurous young man, after all he is fishing his way across the country and blogging about it for OutdoorLife.com this summer, took me up on it. We had a ball, Rick picked up tenkara style fishing right away. He moved through the casting and fishing options with ease going to a two fly rig and sling shot cast and landing a nice fat brookie in a tricky spot at the end of the day.

You can see his gallery and commentary from his adventures in DC, the Chesapeake Bay and the Rapidan. I really appreciate Rick giving a shout out to the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture!

Photos from our trip on the Rapidan start at number 15

Tenkara 411

Because I get questions about fishing tenkara style, I pulled together some information. I also posted it on the Gone Fishing page so it is easy find to refer to.

For those unfamiliar with tenkara, it is a traditional Japanese method of fly-fishing. It reduces fly-fishing to three basic elements, a rod, a line and a fly. It has been used for centuries in Japan’s high mountain streams. Tenkara is all about simplicity. You focus on the fishing rather than the gear.

For brook trout fishing in the mountains I use the Tenkara USA Iwana in the 11′ length and 6:4 action. I use a 10′ 6″ traditional tenkara line attached to the tip  of the rod with a simple girth hitch. I tie about 9″ of 4x tippet to the end of the line, then about 12-18″ of 5x or 6x tippet to that depending on the conditions.

Because it flexes so much in the upper section especially at the tip, it readily protect a light tippet. While the rod appears delicate, it has held up exceptionally well under the rigors of fishing, traveling, bush whacking and teaching.

As you will quickly discover, tenkara style fishing gives you incredible drag free drifts. Often three and four times as long as you might get with a conventional outfit. And those drag-free drifts are one of the most important elements for fishing success.

It is a great teaching tool. It makes teaching the basics very easy, getting the student on the water and fishing sooner. It allows the teacher and student to focus more on fishing technique and not have to work so much on line management and casting skills.

Tenkara doesn’t replace conventional fly fishing, however. There are fishing situations where long casts and heavier lines are required.

Here are some links with more information about tenkara.

Tenkara USA’s website, has a wealth of information. There you can find information on the origins and history of tenkara, video’s and diagrams of casting techniques.

In the spirit of full disclosure because I am a professional guide and instructor I get a professional discount from Tenkara USA. They did not compensate me for writing or posting this.

The Big Fish interview

One of the more entertaining parts of my trip to Australia was being interviewed by Scott Levi, host of The BigFish program on ABC (Australia) at the Fishers for Fish Habitat Forum. Scott MC’d the panel discussion I participated in. Scott is a really enjoyable guy and we had a few laughs during the panel discussion and the interview. We chatted about fishing, fish habitat and tenkara style fly-fishing after the panel discussion that evening.
You can give a listen to the interview here if you are interested. My conversation with Scott starts about 3 1/2 minutes into the program.

Fishers for Fish Habitat Tour and Forum in Australia

I was in Australia for the past couple of weeks. During the first week my wife and I had a chance to visit some of New South Wales; the South Coast, Snowy Mountains, Lake Jindabyne, Kosciusko National Park, Cooma and Cowra. We tried to stay away from the large urban areas and see as much of the more rural parts as we could.

The second week, we had the pleasure of spending 5 days with Craig Copeland and Charlotte Jenkins of Industry and Investment New South Wales. They took my wife and I on a tour of some of the fish habitat projects they have been working on. It was a great opportunity to see how our Australian colleagues are dealing with the challenges of dwindling fish habitat. We went to sites in the Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central West, Hunter Valley and wound up at Lake Macquarie for the forum.

I also had a chance to be part of a panel discussion with some notable Australian recreational fishing pros and give a presentation on fish habitat activity in the U.S., especially the National Fish Habitat Action Plan and the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture.

F4F recreational fishers panel

i sound smarter with a beer in front of me....

I even managed to get a little press coverage of my visit:  US expert says conservation is give and take.

It was a wonderful opportunity to see Australia both on our own and with some liked minded conservationists and to trade ideas and stories about two things I really enjoy, fishing and conservation.

Exploring the simplicity of tenkara fly-fishing

New and interesting places to fish are not really hard to find. New and interesting ways to fish, especially fly-fish, on the other hand are somewhat hard to find.

A while back I read an article in Fly Rod and Reel magazine about Patagonia founder and CEO Yvon Chouinard. Chouinard was named angler of the year by the magazine and talked about his efforts to simplify his sports and life.

He mentioned that he had been given a tenkara rod. His description of the rod and the style of fishing intrigued me. That description and the notion of simplifying fly-fishing stuck with me. I was on the lookout for a tenkara rod and the “how to” of tenkara fishing.

Tenkara, a traditional Japanese method of fly-fishing, reduces fly-fishing to three basic elements, a rod, a line and a fly. It has been used for centuries in Japan’s high mountain streams to fish for Yamame trout.

The idea that such a rod and style of fishing might be applied to our own native brook trout in the mountain streams here in the Valley fascinated me.

One of Chouinard’s close friends is my good friend Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Mont. I called Craig and asked if he had seen Chouinard fish with the tenkara rod.

“Oh yeah, we have been fishing O’Dell crick with them, it’s a blast,” said Mathews.

Tenkara rods range from 11 to 13 feet, weigh as little as two and a half ounces and collapse down to 20 inches. The line is very light and supple, doesn’t hold water and designed to balance with tenkara rods. These light lines, resembling furled leaders, make for very delicate and precise presentations with incredible drag free drifts.

I bought a rod made by Tenkara USA from Mathews. It is their Iwana model in the 5:5 action. Action in fly-fishing parlance means how stiff or flexible the rod is and how fast or slow the rod returns to the unflexed position. In the case of the rod I purchased, the 5:5 mean it is very flexible and slow.

Tenkara rods have evolved from bamboo to modern day graphite composites. These new rods are light and strong like today’s conventional fly-rods. Tenkara USA’s rods are telescopic, with all pieces fitting inside the handle, making then easy to transport, set up and take down. The tenkara fly-line is attached to the tip of the rod with a girth hitch.

Many people upon seeing a tenkara rod think it is just a fancy cane pole and you are just “dapping” the fly. Not true at all. All the casts you would make with a conventional fly-rod are used with a tenkara rod.

I have yet to try it in the mountains but did have a chance to try it out on Mossy Creek with my wife recently. We adjusted our normal casting techniques to the slower action of the tenkara rod. Very quickly we were making precise overhead casts and getting far longer drifts with a dry fly than we would normally get.

What struck us both was how easy it would be for someone just starting out or wanting to learn fly-fishing. Tenkara makes teaching the basics very easy, getting you on the water and fishing sooner. It allows the teacher and student to focus more on fishing.

Tenkara USA’s Web site, has a wealth of information. There you can find information on the origins and history of tenkara, video’s and diagrams of casting techniques.

Perhaps the notion of a simpler life with a focus on skill rather than gear sounds good to you. Check out tenkara, you just may find you like the simple life.

You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.