Jeremy Lucas: Where East meets West. Tenkara fishing in Slovenia.

Tenkara guide Jeremy Lucas
We are in immensely exciting times in the river sport with trout and grayling.  As never before, the dominant western-style approach is being challenged to the extent that a new generation of fly fishers are abandoning the anachronistic AFTMA line weighting system and even drawing away from being fly line orientated.  The Japanese fixed line approach is having enormous influence and has defined a new plateau of presentation possibilities at short range.  In the last three years leader-only technique (or leader-to-hand) has evolved away from the limited French leader, to closely match tenkara in terms of presentation or dry fly, at greater range.
Perfect tenkara waters Radovna
I have just returned home from an exciting trip to Slovenia, where over two weeks groups of eight and nine anglers, respectively, fished the whole range of nymph and dry fly approach; from classical western-style (with #2, 3 and 4 weight lines), silk lines (#2), the outstanding 000 from Rio (equivalent to a #0 on the AFTMA scale), leader-only and tenkara.  This gave us superb and possibly unprecedented comparison in a whole range of circumstances and river type.  Because a total of 15 people were involved, as well as guides, objective conclusions can be drawn, particularly as over 2,000 measurable rainbow and brown trout, and grayling were caught.

I think the first observation was that the modern western-style has already evolved to a very high state, compared with even a decade ago.  Gone are the clumsy heavy lines of #5 and heavier, and short, high diameter leaders and tippets.  The three weight is dominant now, typically on a 10' or 11' rod such as the outstanding XF2 Streamflex.  The control and presentation achieved with such tackle, particularly with a long leader, are excellent, and the combination probably represents a pinnacle for most river anglers.  We noticed that the finesse of a light weight silk level line improved control still further, while the lack of stretch in the same also improved the level of control and hook setting.  The Rio triple 0 is probably the best polymer line ever made for the river angler.  This casts a little better than the leader-to-hand (or presentation leader), touches down more gently even than silk, but still manifests the sag, or 'drape' as it is often known of fly line, which spoils control. 

Radovna river Slovenia
At the other extreme, four of us regularly practiced tenkara, with either furled leaders, fine level fluorocarbon (0.26mm) or a shortened version of my own presentation leader (with a soft furled loop at the butt for attachment to the lillian).  In all cases we experienced the outstanding presentation at short range, up to 7m from the hand.  We exploited this method mostly on the smaller streams where we encountered mostly fish in the 20cm - 30cm range, which are ideal for this approach, though I pushed the boundaries a little on larger rivers where bigger fish were encountered.  A key observation from everyone on the trip was that while the presentation is unparalleled control rapidly falls away with range.  Beyond 7m, up to 12m, the tippet length must be very long, and it is difficult to avoid sag, especially with anything other than fine level fluorocarbon (or copolymer).  Worse is that ungainly moment when we have to grasp the tippet and begin the hand-lining process to bring the fish to net or hand.  The elegance of this approach completely breaks down at this point, and it can also, frankly, be  irresponsible, because with trout larger than 30cm, unless they are exhausted – which itself should never be the case when practising catch and release – hand-lining often results in a break.  It takes huge experience to learn to avoid this and it is, I feel, the biggest problem tenkara has.  Nonetheless, with the smaller fish, both trout and grayling, we were all thrilled by tenkara; and enjoyed catching such fish far more than when using western-style.
Kokra river Slovenia
And there, in the centre ground, is the leader-to-hand.  It struck me more than ever before within the context of this Slovenian trip, that this approach combines the best of western-style and tenkara, or rather, eschews the faults in both styles.  We still have the impeccable presentation, or touch down, with excellent control, but at much longer range than tenkara; anything up to 18 metres, with astonishing drag free drifts and control all the way.  With hooked fish there is none of the tippet threatening drag created by thick fly line being pulled through the water and best of all the reel offers its greatest service to us by allowing us to yield and gather line, maintaining elegance throughout the process as a fish is brought to hand.

So, we have a spectrum of styles or methods, all of which have their virtues, both historic and in the contemporary sport.  I believe that the leader-to-hand is no more than a marriage, a meeting place of east and west, developed from the best aspects of both. 

rainbow in slovenia
We should have no time for any fly fisher who dismisses or attacks the beauty of any approach, and we each exist at some personal, content space within the spectrum of possibilities in this branch of fly fishing.  I have friends who take great delight in the western-style with three weights, and yet are exploring with the triple zero and even leader-only rigs, and others who are consumed by the minimalistic fixed line, and we all together explore the central tenet of presentation, which is the frontier in our sport, in my view.

The courses, masterclass and group sessions I organise on the Eden and various European venues have proved immensely popular, such that all of these are filled (or have taken place) for this year other than two places remaining for the very last trip of the year (to the San, Poland, in the first week of October).  I am, however, repeating all of these next year, with the addition of at least one week on the top Bohemian rivers in Czech, along with two of the Czech river masters.  Any readers interested should take a look at my website, where dates and details of all courses will be listed soon; alternatively you can contact me via this site.  You can also find details about my presentation leader here:  www.presentationflyfishing.com

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