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

Tapply was right

If you have not read any of Bill Tapply‘s work then you have missed out. Phil Monahan over at Orvis.com has started to bring back some of Bill’s articles for their website. The first, “The Truth about Fly Fishermen,” conjured up thoughts of the all too often negative comments in various forms about tenkara or even more silly, what is and is not tenkara.

“One of them damn anglers.”

Spoken as if the word angler were a disgusting waste product.

“Dry-fly snob. Thinks he’s better’n the rest of us.”

“Yeah, no kidding. I heard one of them poles he’s using costs over a hundred bucks.”

And so forth. I’d been hearing it all my life.

Substitute “tenkara” for “dry fly” and you get the picture.

I won’t spoil the story but here is Tapply’s punch line:

“Wanted to see how it was done. I’ve always thought that fly fishing was so cool but figured it was too hard for an old dog to learn. You made it look easy.”

“It is easy,” I said.

“Looks like a lot of fun,” he said. “I gotta learn how to do that.”

“Really?” I said. “You want to be a fly fisherman?”

“Yeah. I always have.”

“We’re terrible snobs, you know.”

They both laughed as if they didn’t believe me.

Next time you feel compelled to offer up your opinion on what is or is not the right way to fish, and I don’t care what type of fishing it is, you would be well advised to read Tapply’s story again. There is no room in the sport for snobs.

Streamer Tenkara

Most people don’t think of tenkara when they think of fishing streamers. Dries, soft hackles, sakaska kebari? Yes. Streamers? Not so much. But tenkara can be an effective method for fishing streamers, especially in the winter months when the dries and terrestrials are taking a break.

What makes a tenkara rod an effective streamer tool is the ability to subtlety manipulate the streamer in the water. The soft action of the tenkara rod helps impart small strike-inducing twitches or jumps.

This is a downstream fishing technique for the most part, but you can use a dead drift, pause and twitch as well. Because of the versatility of the tenkara rod, you have a range of options.


I recommend fishing a stiffer action rod like the Patagonia 10 foot, six-inch Soft Hackle. You can use a longer line then when fishing dries because you will be dropping the line on the water as you fish downstream. My line of choice on my local spring creeks has been 15 to 18 feet of Patagonia’s floating line made of a small-diameter, hard mono core and a supple PVC coating.

Attach a seven-foot, six-inch 3x leader to a floating line with a perfection or double surgeon’s knot. 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. The longer leader helps get the streamer down lower in the water column.

You can also switch to a shorter main line (12 feet) and longer leader (9 feet) if you are fishing deeper water or not getting the streamer down where you want it.


Make a quartering (45-degree) downstream cast. Then, as soon as the flies are in the water, make a downstream mend. This mend gets the slack out and swings the streamer across the current. The key is to maintain direct control of the fly.

When the flies are downstream you can make subtle twitches 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 fly pulse. Time and again I have had fish hit at the end of the twitch, thanks to their predatory instinct.

Because you have heavy flies you need to use a cast that keeps tension in the system. I use a Belgian cast most of the times. Slide the line along the water starting with the rod tip low, then slowly raise the rod. When about half the line is behind you, smoothly accelerate forward, stopping at a point where the line can unroll in front of you just above the water. Keep the line in constant motion and under tension until you come to the stopping point for your forward cast.


The streamers in my box are typically bead or cone head wooly buggers, kreelex, retrievers and sculpin imitations. I have found that size 6 is about as big as I feel comfortable tossing with a tenkara rod. Most of the time I am swimming them, but the retriever can be dead drifted as well.

Recently I adapted the soft hackle technique I described in Two Fly Tenkara to my streamer fishing. I have added a soft hackle or nymph on a dropper. The easiest way to tie on the dropper is with a dropper loop and a separate piece of tippet attached to the leader above streamer.

Tie in a length of tippet for the streamer, say 3 feet. Now take six to nine inches of the same size tippet and tie a perfection loop or double surgeons loop 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.

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


If you are going to go down and dirty, don’t put your tenkara rig on the shelf. You can fish streamers effectively and if the dries start to pop, you can get in the game with a quick line change.

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

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


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.


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.

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.