Winter Tenkara on Clear Creek

As I mentioned, Erika got me a tenkara rod recently. Between waiting for some tackle to arrive, some travel, and cold weather, today was the first chance I got to actually try it out. It’s Christmas Eve, and here in Colorado that apparently means 50 degree weather. I’m definitely not complaining. I was expecting it to be colder as I gained some elevation, but it was right around 50 up on Clear Creek, and it was actually a pretty nice temp to be fishing in. Definitely a lot more bearable than a few weeks ago when it was closer to 40.

I honestly wasn’t too concerned with catching anything today, which was lucky because I didn’t even see a single fish. I was more interested in getting a feel for the rod, which is really quite different from a “western fly rod”. Because it’s so long, and so light/flexible, the tenkara rod needs barely any effort to cast, and you can place the fly quite precisely (even me, a rank beginner). It took me a few minutes to get a bit of a hang of it, but I think I can handle it reasonably well now. I fished an Amano Kebari, although as I mentioned I didn’t even see anything there. While dropping a nymph (or 2) off of that may have increased my chances of a strike, I wanted to get a decent feel for the “pure form” of tenkara before experimenting a bit more.

Probably my favorite thing about the experience was just how simple the rod is. I was set up (tied on a hook, rigged up the line to the rod) in a few minutes, and was off and running. When I moved from place to place, it was really easy to either wind up the line and collapse the rod, or just keep it as-is if I had a clear path.

As far as the winter side of things goes, I was a bit nervous about the ice shelfs that were everywhere, so that made getting into the water a bit tricky. Once I was in there it was pretty comfortable though, and my waders worked wonderfully. I had thermals and thin track-pants on underneath them, plus some woolen winter socks. I could feel the temp difference, but wasn’t particularly cold. It was definitely a weird experience fishing and having “ice bergs” banging against my legs as they came sliding down the river. I also managed to catch a few ice-cubes to keep things interesting (see below).

With my phone in its new QuadLock case (the second one I’ve owned), I put it on my running band and had it on my upper arm. A bit of a risk, since if I went for a swim it’d definitely be toast, but it did allow me to snap a few pics one-handed, without having to actually juggle my phone and risk dropping it.

Tenkara USA Iwana, 12ft

As an early Christmas present, Erika got me a 12ft Tenkara USA Iwana rod! Now I’m really psyched to get back out and try it, even if it is cold 🙂 Given that I’m about to leave on a work trip though, I’m not going to get a chance until right around Christmas.

I’ve put in an order for a few things to round out my tenkara kit: line holder, level line, tapered line and a set of Takayama Kebari flies.

Tenkara

I don’t remember where I first came across Tenkara, but I know that as soon as I did, I was quite enamored with the idea of it. In short, tenkara uses an extra long (normally 11 to 14 feet)  telescopic rod, with a fixed line and no spool. The line is attached directly to the end of the rod, and you use the length of the rod itself to provide reach/maneuverability rather than reeling out more line (and then stripping it back in again). After poking around a bit I’ve started following Tenkara USA (the first company to bring it to a wide audience in the US) quite closely to see what’s going on.

Tenkara is a very old, Japanese style of stream fishing which was used by commercial fishermen in the mountains. It’s very effective in smaller streams (vs big, wide, meandering flats rivers), and is ideally suited to Colorado-style fishing, where you’re mostly targeting 8-20″ trout. Fishing tenkara has a few other interesting twists, but the biggest (IMHO) is the focus on technique over equipment as far as flies/rigs go. Rather than encouraging complex rigs and continuously switching flies to try to find the perfect deception for where you’re fishing, tenkara encourages the use of one fly (or a small number of flies), and then focuses on different presentation techniques to trick fish into striking. There’s a certain allure to that simplicity, not least of which is avoiding having to buy (and know when to use) a bunch of different flies, knowing how to set up complex rigs, and all the wasted time re-tying things while on the water.

As mentioned in this previous post, I stopped by Orvis in Boulder (who also sell Tenkara USA equipment) to see Daniel Galhardo, the founder of Tenkara USA speak about tenkara fishing. He talked to a small group of us about the history, techniques and equipment, the types of fishing it’s suited to, how it differs from “western fly fishing”, etc. At the end of the presentation, we got to try out casting with a Tenkara USA rod (which is quite different from western casting), and then he also showed us how easy it is to tie a tenkara fly (pretty impressively so!).

Personally, there are a few things that draw me to tenkara:

  • Simplicity: I love how simple the set up is, and how it minimizes the reliance on having all the “right equipment”.
  • Portability: I really hate rigging up and retying my rod, so anything that can minimize my time spent doing that is welcome. Being able to collapse down the rod and spool up the line to get between fishing holes is really nice as well, and seems like it’d make hiking + fishing much more accessible.
  • Technique: The focus on technique over equipment is a nice concept to me — it makes it more about me vs a fish than it does about just putting the right fly on there and hooking something. If I wanted to win that easily, I’d just use bait. That being said… everyone loves to actually catch fish, so I hope I’m up to the challenge. The casting technique of tenkara is also nice, because it seems much easier to master, and while the western style back/forward cast is quite beautiful, it requires a lot of room and finesse that seems a bit overkill.

I’m now angling (pun intended) to get a tenkara set up for Christmas so that I can try it out.

Header image taken from this Tenkara USA blog post.

Middle Boulder Creek, #2 Pullout

I was deciding whether to go to Clear Creek again, or to try out Boulder Creek, but I luckily noticed this tweet:

so I went to the Orvis in Boulder to hear Daniel Galhardo speak about tenkara (more about that in this post), and came away with a new map book (updated version of this book) and a hand-tied tenkara fly from Daniel. After that stop-off, I headed to Boulder Creek and picked a pull-out pretty randomly (which I later established as turnout #2, according to a map of the area) to try my luck. Once I put on the fly that Daniel had given me, I got one step closer to finally landing my own fish — I hooked one, fought it in, then almost landed it. Since I didn’t really know what I was doing as far as landing a fish without a net, I tried to grab it once I got it in, and instead managed to hook my finger, and lose the fish  😛 . I think part of the lesson here is to make sure the fish is worn out a bit more, and also to get them to an easier to maneuver place before trying to get a hand on them. I was perched on a rock, and didn’t really have a good angle to get to the fish before I tried to grab it.

Walking upstream from the turnout, there’s a fording/crossing point (for cars, in the right conditions), and just above that there’s a bit of a pool area where I spotted a few fish that were feeding. Despite all my best efforts I couldn’t hook one of them; I think I’m just not presenting my fly convincingly enough for them to take interest.

At that point it was getting pretty late, so I decided to call it a day and, appropriately, ended up at a sushi restaurant in Boulder. Since I was solo, I got sat in a single empty seat at the bar, and the guy next to me turned out to be a visitor to the area (a physician, attending a conference in Boulder). He was Japanese, and tenkara turned out to be an interesting topic of discussion. We ended up splitting some sake, and then said our goodbyes so that I could make the miserable drive back down the construction-plagued Denver/Boulder Turnpike (36).