Badger Co-founder Mike Lutes shares his take on Tenkara rod micro spoon fishing
- Matt @ Badger
Once the festivities wrapped up, Matt and I broke away to fish together on the Bad Axe, a river we like enough to name a rod for,but on a section we had not spent much time on. I looked down stream from our planned starting point and saw a log jam that looked promising. The approach would be tricky. I would have to climb down a steep bank from up stream section, potentially putting me in the line of sight of the fish. The angle would be less than ideal. I tried to drop my cast right up against the jam, but missed by more than a foot. Imagine my surprise when a trout shot out from the jam and crushed the spoon! Not a bad start. Or maybe that fish was just particularly eager. Later, Matt fished a promising looking run ahead of me and drew no strikes. “No fish in this run” he pronounced. I will fully admit that Matt is a better tenkara angler than I, but I still had to try. On my first cast, I had two trout chase the spoon down the run. And so it continued.
Our experience with trout in the driftless region has been that they are not typically very selective. If you put something that looks like trout food in the zone where they are feeding (on the surface, in the film, deep and so forth), you will catch at least some trout. Thus, we believe the fly angler should “hone the zone” versus “match the hatch”. However, driftless trout, and our browns in particular, typically won’t go too far out of their way to grab a fly. They tend to be very structure oriented. I’ve had scenarios where I make multiple casts to the same fish, and if I don’t get within a couple inches of the feeding lane, the fly is ignored. The only fly that I’ve fished that fish will CONSISTENTLY go out of their way to hit is the San Ron Worm. But the microspoon puts it to shame. It draws fish way out of their comfortable lies with a frequency that is hard to believe. Which leads me to what I think the real strength is to the microspoon.
The mircospoon is the best prospecting tool I have yet to find. If you are fishing a new body of water and are wondering “are their fish in that little blue line?”. Grab a spoon. Matt and I have spent so much time exploring new creeks. When we hit a creek and the fishing is slow or not happening at all, we always have to wonder, is it us? Is it the weather? Did the water temperature drop? Are their just no fish in this creek? Did another angler disturb the creek before we got there? Do we just take this creek off the list or try again another day? I believe the spoon is they best way to determine if a new body of water is worth your time to fish. Sure, you can dial it in and fish the fly of your choice once you know there are decent numbers of fish, but putting a spoon on your line will answer your questions faster and more reliably that a fly. If you like to explore new water, put a couple in your fly box.
The other great thing about the spoons is that they will often give you another chance at a fish. If you miss (or the fish misses), cast again. Last week, I had what I think was the same brook trout chase the spoon six times! I also caught my personal best crappie on a spoon after I missed him the first time.
Speaking of other species, so far I have caught brook trout, brown trout, bluegills, sunfish, crappie, perch, largemouth bass and shiners on the spoon. I haven’t chased smallmouth with them yet, but that is coming!
Now, as far as the downsides. First, they are a bit expensive, at least compared to many (certainly not all) flies, but there is no doubt in my mind they are well-worth the cost. If I am exploring a new creek, time is my most valuable asset. Having a reliable tool to assess the numbers of fish in the creek is invaluable. Think of the time you spend planning trips, driving there and the gas money you spend! Second, my hook up rate with them is not great. I draw way more strikes than solid hook ups. I’ve talked to Chris Stewart about this and he thinks it is because the fish tend to strike the spoon from the side, missing the hook. One could try to remedy the problem with a treble hook, but I think the goes against the ethos of most tenkara fisherman. I personally dislike treble hooks greatly, as I’ve removed countless numbers of them from patients in my other life as an ER doctor. I don’t see to many guys come in the ER with a single, barbless hook embedded in a hand/finger/arm/face. So,that for me is not the answer. If you handle the hooks on the spoons Chris sells, you will note they are ridiculously sharp. Turns out, the Japanese know a thing or two about sharpening metals. That being said, they are very soft, and I’ve had fish bend the hook. I thought that perhaps the soft hook was messing with my hook set, so I traded them out for a #10 Orvis Tactical Czech nymph hook, which has a very similar profile. My hook up rate greatly improved. So, that may be more of a “me” problem than a problem with the spoon itself, but it improved my hook rate. In Chris’s write up on his experience with the spoon, he writes that the fish will “hook themselves” so maybe I just need to be more patient. Chris also recommends a replacement hook for anglers who don’t like the softer hook, which I will also check out. Don’t get me wrong. While I wish my hook up rate was better, it is well worth it to me just to see the kind of fish numbers I do while fishing the spoon. I have no doubt part of the issue is “angler error”. Since you so often see the fish come after the spoon, I think I sometimes I time my hook set wrong, whether too early or too late. At times the fish will hook themselves, but if you see them darting at the spoon, it can be hard to tell if they have really taken it or are just pushing it around. I suspect I will improve my connection rate with time, but is something the spoon-naive should be aware of.
Lastly, I’d like to discuss the mechanics and tactics of microspoon fishing with tenkara rods. You should know these things are light. I have cast them with numerous rods and have no problem casting them with a variety of rods, including softer Japanese rods. They are easier to cast than some of the heavy nymphs and air-resistant streamers I also fish. They cast really nicely with #4 level line. You could probably use a lighter line than that, but I have not tried. Lightweight floating line works great, too. It is easier to hit a defined target with a spoon than a heavier nymph or streamer in my experience. There is none of the pendulum-like effect you get with heavier flies.
The Original Tenkara Bum (OTB?), suggests fishing the spoons upstream, raising the rod to keep the line tight. That strategy certainly works and gives the spoon the “wounded wobble” fish seem to love. I’ve also had good success fishing them downstream, letting them drift or swing. They won’t sink as much, for sure. You can cast, let them sink and retrieve, which also works. Regardless, fish will often take them on the drop before you have a chance to think about how you handle the retrieve. If you are fishing still water, let the spoon drop and do the “wounded wobble” on the way down. Then, switch up your retrieve. Try a steady retrieve (it will still spin) or retrieve with wrist motion to give the spoon more action. If those don’t work, try a twitch/pause like you would with a streamer, varying the speed and frequency to see what the fish like. A twitch and then sink and can be very effective, very wounded-baitfish-like.
As far as tying the spoon on, I use the non-slip mono loop knot, which works great for me. Other anglers use a microswivel or snap, which I will also try. I have not felt the need for a swivel, as I feel I still get plenty of movement with just a loop knot, but at $4.50 for a package, why not try it?
Can you buy spoons for your tenkara rod somewhere else? Maybe. Good luck, though. I looked at several sources and did not find anyone selling spoons as light as T-bum sells and the heavier ones are not at pleasant to fish. My money will continue to go to Chris, who has done so much to grow the tenkara community in the US and elsewhere.
In closing, unless fishing a spoon with a tenkara rod is too upsetting to your sensibilities, give it a try. They are a blast. I don’t think you find a better prospecting tool and it is simply fun to watch fish (sometimes multiple fish) chase the thing.