Tenkara

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I grew up next to a creek that was largely a modified dump. It was not unusual to find a bicycle in it, or bottles, or cans, or styrofoam cups, or a carcass of some animal or another.

Despite all that, it also had a lot of fish.

The creek was split in two by a dam. Above the dam it was sunfish, largemouth bass, and pike. Below the dam there were panfish, pike, and smallmouth bass, plus lots of baitfish — shiners and the like.

I spent the bulk of my free time there, from age 8 to 18. The black folks from the city would come to the dam on the weekends and fish with long cane poles for panfish.

At the time I looked down on them. Who would fish with a cane pole when you could have a fancy spinning outfit?

The fact that the spinning outfit broke down more times than I could count never dawned on my brick 10-year-old head. Half the fun was taking them apart and seeing how they worked — or didn’t work, as the case may be.

My fishing career evolved, of course. I went from spinning rods to fly rods, which just got more expensive, and then from graphite fly rods to bamboo fly rods and Hardy reels which got more expensive even yet.

Then a couple of years ago I found that I didn’t even fish much, if at all. Last year I didn’t even buy a license. It wasn’t that fishing wasn’t fun — it was. It was that lugging around all the stuff was just too heavy, too cumbersome, too complicated.

Then I was watching a video that featured author John Gierach.

It wasn’t about his books — it was about a rod, a Tenkara rod.

Tenkara is a telescoping graphite fly rod and a fishing method that’s been around in Japan for centuries. It has no reel and you only cast a relatively short line — about 15, 20 feet, including the leader.

The whole thing weighs a just a few ounces and fit easily into a pack.

The classic Tenkara fly is a soft hackle wet fly that can also be fished as a dry fly as you tie it with the hackle reversed so that it points to the eye of the hook instead of the barb. The idea is you’re not changing flies all the time, you’re just trying to make the fly look like something a trout wants to eat. With a 12-foot rod, that’s not all that difficult to do, provided the fish are relatively close to you.

So far I fished it on several different waters under various conditions and it works great. The best method is to fish the fly as a dry on the upstream cast, then as a wet as it swings by with a slow pull to the surface on the swing.

The fish usually whack the dry or take it on the upswing. With the rod length, you can also dapple the fly on the water if a trout is getting picky.

Every time I take it out of the case I think about the black guys at the old hometown creek, catching panfish with their long cane rods. It only took 40 years for me to figure out they knew what they were doing all along.

Chris Peterson is the editor of the Hungry Horse News.

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