Sometimes I like to imagine myself an inconoclast, but probably I’m just contrary. Mrs. Davis, my eighth grade teacher, summed it up, I think, in a very perceptive way. Once, she having left the classroom, I removed her gradebook from the top drawer of her desk and, looking under my name, found under the “Comments” heading this entry: “cannot accept authority.” This tendency to play devil’s advocate has probably informed my life in many ways.
And so it is with tenkara. I continue to rebel against the onefly concept of tenkara. Largely, this is because I am a dedicated dry fly angler, addicted to the trout’s take of a surface fly, sometimes dainty and ballet-like, sometimes explosive, more akin to a mixed martial arts contest. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy subsurface fishing, too, just not to the same degree. We have to be careful, I think, in our zeal to simplify our angling through tenkara, that we don’t also diminish the richness and variety of our sport, i.e, fly fishing.
When I first began fly tying some fifteen years ago, I especially became enamored of the Catskill dry patterns. To this day, these to me are THE inconic dry flies, their proportions so elegant. So buggy. The problem is I never became truly adept at fashioning the wings on these flies, getting them to stand erect with the proper separation. Or the hackle would be the “wrong” size for the hook size. So I would discard these into a flybox of rejects, not quite ready for prime time, until I had probably accumulated a hundred of these and other subpar flies.
Then, to tenkara’s credit, the onefly concept reminded me that presentation trumps fly selection in most cases, so I began experimenting with the reject flies, and what I discovered, not surprisingly, was that if the fish were in the mood to “look up,” they would take that old Catskill Adams with the disheveled wings without hesitation.
Last week was a prime example. My wife and I made our first spring trip to the Creek. Purposely I tied on an Adams, one from the discards, applied some floatant and cast. It didn’t take the trout long to notice, although the mayfly hatch occurring at that moment consisted of smaller and lighter-colored insects. Later, a switch to the beetle kebari proved equally effective. I did swing a sakasa kebari across and downstream, pulsing it now and then, receiving a very satisflying tug or two in return, even bringing a couple fish to hand.
As we moved upstream, we observed a pod of trout holding tight to the stream bottom, occasionally moving to take something in the water column or simply opening their mouths to capture a drifting prey. No dry fly cast over these fish interested them in the least, and as this was a slow, deep pool, there was no way to get a sakasa kebari-like wet fly down to these trout. What I did next certainly stretches the boundary of tenkara perhaps, but it worked. Choosing a buoyant dry fly, a Madame X, as a strike indicator, I attached a heavy beadhead nymph to its hookbend, and to this I attached a bubblegum pink globall. This rig was cumbersome to cast, but the trout really keyed in on that globall.
So, I continue to define tenkara for myself and am so happy to suddenly have at my disposal another hundred or so flies.