Jeremy Lucas: Leader -only technique and tenkara - 2nd issue.

Tenkara guide Jeremy Lucas
Robert Worthing's post of October 18th has provided us a fascinating insight into the state of tenkara fishing in Utah, where catches of trout in the 50cm – 60cm range are 'routine'.  This is fascinating and somewhat encouraging, I feel, because from a European perspective, this size range is high for fixed line, and high also for an average among wild fish in both rivers and lakes.  This routine range is more commonly 25cm – 40cm, albeit with grayling up to 50cm and trout to 70cm.  On most of our rivers the fixed line, with fine tippets, can handle this average fish, though there are always severe limitations when larger trout are hooked.

The points Robert makes about dealing with the larger specimens are particularly valuable.  His summary about the preparedness of the angler in such encounters are entirely valid.  Without a doubt, larger than average trout are most often lost simply because they take the angler by surprise and he is, thus, out of control – not properly prepared.  I am as guilty as anyone in having lost a lot of trout (and a few big grayling) simply because I had not given due regard to being prepared for that moment a big fish is hooked.  My own main point (in my post of Sept 17th), was that in many cases the ability to yield line via a fly reel, in the western-style, gives us a much higher degree of control.  Not that I would disregard any of Robert's points about being fluid – like water – and using one's feet to position oneself ideally for the target fish or area and then moving accordingly once the fish is hooked.  As he states, far too many anglers are stiff and wooden. 

tenkara wild trout on CDC plum
I think that one of the great dividing way-points in our sport (running and fixed line) lies in the angler's expectation and anticipation level.  Some are surprised and, let's face it, grateful, when a fish takes the fly, while others are surprised when it does not.  There is a vast difference between the two states, the latter of which encompasses the huge experience that we develop over the years.  But it has all to do with reducing the variables as much as possible, such as fly selection, wading technique and choosing the right range and angle.  With confidence in all of these, if there is a refusal, then there are fewer aspects of the approach which the experienced angler needs to consider, and it is likely to boil down to a subtle aspect of presentation and/or control.

I completely agree also that the tenkara rod, at least in 5:5 and 6:4 specifications, allowing a better degree of control over more powerful western-style fly rods.  An exception is the low line rated rods that an ever increasing vanguard of river angler is using throughout Europe, principally in the AFTMA 2 and 3 line weight classes.  These, in combination with similarly fine tippets (and long leaders) as in tenkara, soften the impact felt by a fish against the rod and result usually in a calming effect on the fish - trout or grayling.  This often gives the angler time to position himself appropriately for bringing the fish to hand.  We are further benefited, of course, by being able to gather and yield line via the rod guides which helps us further absorb shock.  One of the most common mistakes made by the European fly fisher, on river or still water, is the use of stiff action, 'tippy' rods, which are casting, not fishing, tools.  It all stems from a belief in the need to cast a long way, which is nearly always counter-productive, and also a traditional dependence on fly line.  My own countrymen are particularly orientated in this way, as are a lot of Americans (the take-up here of tenkara notwithstanding), while the continental Europeans typically embrace a more pragmatic and elegant route.  My own approach with leader-only western-style techniques, and the fixed line, has been considered until recently rather on the fringe in England, though it is refreshing to see the avalanching development of interest in this area.

I noticed that Douglas Hall in his excellent post of Nov 3rd, refers to the tiresome western-style vs fixed line confrontation.  I think we are most of us guilty of this to various extents, though this is perfectly natural as we each have our preferences.  It is best to be objective, though, and to look at the real benefits or disadvantages of each approach according to the circumstances.  They both have tremendous benefits, with the possibilities for presentation with the fixed line being simply incredible, while the running line has the edge in terms of control, and a greater range of circumstances in which it is valid.  It is all arguable, and subject to a vast range of different conditions and circumstances, quite apart from our individual likes and dislikes, and to think otherwise is just a lack of experience, or even intelligence; perhaps even plain bigotry.  It is far better to embrace it all, benefiting from what each approach can teach us about this incredible occupation in which we immerse ourselves.  If we do not do this, we miss out on sometimes quite remarkable discoveries. 

tenkara wild trout Radovna
About a year ago, for example, I rediscovered horse hair in the form of furled leaders.  I have since been incorporating them into leaders on tenkara rigs as well as leader-only and also the tip of two and three weight fly lines (silk and polymer).  In all cases they offer advantages over what I previously used for such purpose – which was usually tapered, braided nylon monofilament or furled thread.  Horse hair (tail) is stiffer than even braided nylon, yielding superior turn-over, while also taking Mucilin grease well – which is a critical component of all my dry fly and nymph presentation.  I have been using a tapered horse hair furled leader for the fixed line, though in truth I do not think this offers me any obvious benefit over any other material or construction other than its stiffness, and the aesthetics.  Where the benefits have been noticeable have been as a tip (or butt section) on fly lines and in my presentation leader (for leader-only rigs), in place of the previously used nylon monofilament braid section.

It would be good to hear about readers' experiences with this material in tenkara.  One aspect of leader construction that I have noticed, and not yet come to terms with, is the connectivity through the taper.  At the moment I connect either via knotting (two turn water knot) the sections together, or by splicing them together with an over-whipping of fly tying thread and a touch of Superglue (taking care not to touch the horse hair).  A wonderfully stiff and comparatively high mass leader can be constructed in this way, but I am not happy with the connectivity.  I would dearly love this to be 'seamless'.  As a section in my presentation leader, or for tipping fly lines, I make a loop in each end of the furled horse hair with a thread whip finish, which affords the simplest and smoothest connectivity via loop to loop.

Wojtek Gibinski with wild trout high up the Radovna
Wojtek Gibinski with wild trout high up the Radovna