Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Winter Is Tenkara Time
After a long, glorious Colorado autumn that seemed to last forever, winter is finally here. Most anglers put their rods away once the snow starts to fall, and break out their skis or retreat to the tying bench once it does. But a new tool has emerged over the past few years which has to potential to revolutionize the way we think about fishing during the “off season”, and that is the tenkara rod. Tenkara-style rods are usually around twelve feet long, with a fixed line and leader combination of fourteen to twenty feet that comes straight off the tip of the rod. Tenkara setups use no reel whatsoever, and make fly fishing even easier than spin fishing. I guide float fishing trips on the Upper Colorado River, and have had days where novice anglers using tenkara rods have out-fished more experienced fishermen using conventional rods.
By now you’ve probably already heard about tenkara, and maybe even tried it yourself. The rods were brought to America by Daniel Galhardo of Tenkara USA, but there are now several different companies selling them now at various price points and levels of quality. For a person skilled and adept at handling a conventional fly rod setup, the notion of limiting oneself to a fixed amount of line may seem to be very constraining. What happens if the fish you are casting to is eighteen feet away, and you’ve only got a seventeen foot long tenkara rig? It is true that there are situations in which tenkara setups aren’t optimal, and that would include wade fishing big rivers, angling for large prey, and windy days.
I really love fishing with my tenkara rod, but still use a conventional setup at least three-quarters of the time. But there is one scenario where tenkara rods really shine, and that is for winter tailwater fishing. Colorado is home to many productive winter fisheries, most located below big dams. Tailwaters include the Blue River below Dillon Reservoir, the Frying Pan below Ruedi, the Yampa below Stagecoach, and the Taylor, to name a few. What these waters have in common is a steady flow of (relatively) warm water flowing all winter that is conducive to insect hatches, and in turn to feeding fish. Waters like this are justifiably famous for the big trout they produce, but fishing them during the high season usually means casting right beside many others doing the same thing. The nice thing about visiting them in the winter when everyone else is on the slopes, or inside nice and warm and dreaming of April, is that you can often have these normally busy waters all to yourself.
The two main obstacles to winter fishing are rod guides that ice up and freezing hands, but tenkara rods solve both problems. (Freezing feet can also be a problem, but if you stand in the forty degree water instead of the ten degree air on the bank it helps!) Tenkara rods have no guides to accumulate ice, so that’s one problem completely eliminated. As for your hands, a tenkara only requires the use of one to hold the rod, so the other hand can stay warm in your pocket. The hand holding the rod can be clad in a snowmobile mitten if conditions dictate, since tenkara rods don’t need delicate hand coordination to fish with. The only time you’ll get your hand wet is when landing a fish, but using barbless hooks can greatly reduce the amount of fish handling necessary when you do land one.
Flows coming out of dams are usually low, and with the slow start to our winter season so far they’ll probably remain that way all winter. Dam operators will be loathe to release any more water than necessary until we see how big of a snowpack we end up with by next year. But low water like that is perfect for tenkara. Tenkara rods are mostly promoted as a way to fish small streams and headwaters, and they are great for that. But the more I use them, the more other situations I realize they are good for. Beginning fisherfolk? Check. Kids, or the elderly who no longer have good hand to eye coordination? Check. Backpackers, or people fishing from horseback or mountain bike? Check. Fishing from a boat, where casts are often fairly short? Check. But of all the varied uses of tenkara rods, there is none where they give you a bigger edge than for winter fishing. Once you’ve used a tenkara rod on your favorite tailwater, you’ll never take your regular rig out again when temperatures dip below freezing.
And if you do hook a big one,what if he wants to take you deep into the backing that you don’t have to give? If you’re fishing from the bank, it might mean that you’ll have to sprint along the bank. When we hook one from my boat, it means that now I’m the drag, and I have to row like hell to keep up. But here’s an alternative method, told to me last winter at the Fly Fishing Show by the folks at Temple Forks Outfitters. I’ll preface this anecdote by admitting that it might be complete BS, but then aren’t most good fishing stories? TFO builds tenkara rods for Patagonia, for its founder, Yvon Chouinard, is a long-time tenkara aficionado. The story told to me is that Mr. Chouinard was fishing somewhere for Atlantic Salmon with a tenkara rod, and hooked a nice fish. The salmon did what they are famous for, which was going on a long, athletic run. He did the best he could trying to run along the bank, but the fish quickly took him to the end of his limited line. Faced with a choice of just breaking the fish off, or tossing the rod into the water, Mr. Chouinard chose the latter. With a conventional rod, throwing your rod into deep water would be a sure-fire way of losing it forever, but tenkara rods have a trick up their telescopic sleeve. They float. The rods are hollow, and have oversized cork handles, and thus will float almost indefinitely. (When I tell this story to my clients, I’ll often toss the tenkara rod they’ve been using into the river to demonstrate this). Mr. Chouinard and his partner then waited patiently alongside the river bank, hoping that another characteristic that Atlantic Salmon supposedly have is true. That is, when an Atlantic Salmon is hooked, although they go on these long runs that take you deep into your line backing, once they throw the hook or break it off, they'll go back to the original feeding lie they were hooked in. So, after waiting for some period of time, they saw their tenkara rod slowly floating back to where the salmon was originally hooked, and were able to retrieve it. Still attached to it was one tired Atlantic Salmon, which they were now able to land!
I make no claims as to the veracity of that story, but am just passing along what was told to me. The storyteller’s nose did not seem to grow discernibly in the telling of it. But it hypothetically could be true, for tenkara rods do float. So if you do happen to hook some huge rainbow in the Toilet Bowl below Ruedi Reservoir, remember that you do have an alternative to breaking him off!
Confluence Casting LLC 14503 Colorado River Road Eagle County CO 81637 Jack@confluencecasting.com
Jack will be a featured speaker at the International Sportmens Exposition in Denver January 12-15th 2017, talking about tenkara and fly fishing the eastern Flat Top Mountains