Tons of Tenkara Smallmouth on the Downstream Swing
We had some trouble finding the river, which really isn't all bad, considering that our misdirection led to the sighting of an older gentleman piloting his powered wheelchair through a small town, shirtless, in brightly colored pajamas pants with a large cockatoo on his shoulder. You just don't see that sort of thing every day. On the way home, we learned that some Amish buggies are equipped with headlights. It's about more than just the fishing, you see!
When we finally arrived at our jumping off point, we were greeted by a groomed fishing platform installed by a fishing club. There was a deep pool with swirling back eddy that looked very promising. It was big enough for us both to fish, so we started at opposite ends and worked towards the middle. Nothing. I'm sure this portion of the river gets some pressure, but it was still a little disappointing to draw a blank from such promising water. We then had to decide whether to move upstream or down. Upstream looked narrower with a canopy of trees, so we chose the downstream route. We decided to hike downstream and then fish back upstream.
After a couple hundred yards, we found a nice looking run with a bubble line along the far bank. I cast and quickly got into a fish, perhaps a 9 or 10 inch smallmouth. I lost him as I was about to net him. Our intel had told this creek is loaded with bass, but they are generally small, around 10 inches being the common size. Fine with us. A couple minutes later, Matt hooked into a larger fish that really gave him a fight. We were reminded just how pugnacious these stream smallmouth are compared to even wild brown trout. Frankly, they make the trout look a little lazy. Matt did a great job playing that vigorous fish, thanks in part to some great tips from the presentation given by Rob Worthing of Tenkara Guide LLC at Midwest Tenkara Fest.
I then noticed a very promising looking cliff pool downstream from us. Our original plan was to head back upstream, but this section of water looked too good to leave behind. I suggested to Matt that we alter our plans. I avoided the temptation to go straight to the cliff and worked my way downstream instead. I'm glad I did. There was a drop off a few yards ahead of the cliff pool that was more or less invisible. It turned out to be one of the most productive portions of the creek. I landed my largest fish of the day from that pool, and it gave up several more for both of us.
Most of our casts were down stream. The fish would take the fly on the swing or as it was twitched on the retrieve. They were not subtle in the take! Now, I have to say that Matt is pretty good at fishing downstream, but it feels very foreign to me; a little like writing left-handed. I'm just very used to fishing upstream. Our tenkara journey, though, has always been about learning and trying new things.
I should mention a bit about our gear. We were both fishing the Badger Tenkara Classic, which Matt has dubbed "the AK-47 of Tenkara rods". It is affordable, durable and can function in a variety of environments. We were both fishing Badger floating line. Matt had 4 pound test tippet, I had 6 pound test mono-filament. Matt was using a variation on his go-to fly, the "Nuclear Pass Lake", tied by our buddy Dale Hewitt. I was using a white cone head streamer. They both worked great.
We continued to move downstream from there. Fishing was steady from there on out. We were surprised at the size of some of the fish we caught. We caught many fish larger than 12 inches, which we were told would be exceptional for this creek. They were all fat, healthy and feisty. We came upon several pools that produced multiple fish for each of us. It was joyful, relaxed fun fishing.
Around sunset, we were fishing a very promising looking long run with plenty of depth and structure. For whatever reason, it seemed that the fishing had completely shut down at that point. Matt pointed out that the clouds had changed, suggesting an atmospheric pressure change. Depending on who you believe, such things can greatly influence fish behavior. As we waded back up stream, we saw some fishing frolicking near the surface. I figured they were carp, but as we got closer, we could clearly see they were gar, all in the two foot plus range. There were several of them roiling just below the surface, occasionally sticking their needle nose snouts out of the water. We guessed they were spawning, but also thought perhaps their presence put the bass off the feed.
Not every creek we explore turns out to be winner. This one was. Get out there and chase down those blue lines on the map. You never know when you will find a real gem!