Jeremy Lucas: Tenkara and winter grayling

Tenkara guide Jeremy Lucas
The use of tenkara in evermore applications in the sport is increasing rapidly.  In Britain and Europe this has extended to the ‘conventional’ Czech style of nymph presentation, at very short range, specifically for winter grayling which has always been considered a peripheral sector of fly fishing, largely because of the cold weather and being so distant from images of balmy summer days and trout rising to dry fly.  Curiously, however, we have stumbled upon this application of tenkara which might be even more suited to Czech nymph approach than it is to summer dry fly.

I should explain that winter nymph fishing generally is a short range technique on the river, sometimes considered at its best when a team of nymphs runs through right under the rod tip. a long tenkara rod is, therefore, most suitable, allowing excellent control and presentation, though the leader and tippet length must be very carefully chosen, because this is the main element that, if wrong, puts us out of control in nymph fishing.    Having a leader too long makes us stretch unduly in order to keep control, but there are limits when holding the rod high will still result in line sag and no contact with the flies.  For a 12’ rod, the leader should be roughly the same length and the tippet no longer than six feet, and probably nearer four or five feet.  Even then, you will find yourself holding the rod high with an extended arm inb order to keep reasonable contact with the team of nymphs.

tenkara rod with nymphing rig
When fishing leader-only, with western-style, we are very used to fine tuning the leader/tippet length in order to have this all important contact during each drift, but this is much more challenging with the fixed-line.  When in doubt on this I would always err towards a shorter leader, even down to 10’.  The benefit of control is so much more important than any spurious desire for greater range.  I thoroughly recommend the Tenkara Times 11' PE furled leader, though this winter I have actually been using a furled indicator leader on my treasured 12’ Iwana, while keeping the tippet to the above dimensions with a double nymph rig. 

You can see the long indicator furl on the wound leader above, as well as the nymphs which are typical of what has been successful on the rivers in northern England.  I am not actually a fan of brightly coloured leaders, or indicators; but for the swollen, stained winter river they do not spook fish (which they certainly do on clear summer waters) and they certainly help in take detection.  This is usually no more than a hesitation in the downstream travel of the rig, or sometimes a length of furl is dragged down below the surface.  With proper contact, however, the visual and tactile elements of the take are registered simultaneously.

Why is this such an appropriate use of tenkara, compared with, say, dry fly for summer trout?  Apart from the very short range, where tenkara excels in terms of presentation and control, grayling, even when large, are ideal target species in that they rarely move so quickly or so far as trout when running.  They tend to bore and use the current (always a danger when a big fish runs downstream of an angler) but do not dash off so fast that the fixed-line angler runs the risk of a break.  A severe issue of fishing fixed line is the inability to yield or gather line.  This can often result in the use of tenkara for large, fast-moving trout being utterly irresponsible, no matter how good the presentation.  Breaking on a fish is simply bad angling and we should do whatever we can to limit this.  Winter grayling, because they rarely move comparatively far once hooked, are, therefore, a perfectly valid quarry for the tenkara enthusiast.

very nice winter grayling by Jeremy- tenkara fishing