Soft Hackles and Streamers



Think about all the water you can cover when swinging a softy with a 13′ fly rod.  Even when tossing streamers, the whole idea is covering water.  Furthermore, putting the proper  action is going to catch you a lot more fish.  Add in some advanced traditional Tenkara and you’ve got a killer hybrid technique that most fish have never seen before.

Soft hackles were designed hundreds of years before the first dry fly simply because high quality dry fly material wasn’t available.  The English and other Western fly fishermen used partridge, starling or other very soft feathers.  The Japanese used similar feathers, sometimes a bit stiffer, and tied them pointing more forwards than backwards.  This was just a matter of slow rivers vs. fast mountain streams.

The popular method of traditional Western soft hackle is swung down and across multiple currents.  The traditional tenkara kebari  is not swung, but pulsed in a single current.

A hybrid combo, knowing both techniques and when they’re best used, makes you a better angler.  Now, apply these techniques to streamers and you’re ready to rock and roll.

Swinging Softies

The traditional method of swinging softies across current and down requires the use of a reel and strong tippet.  When the fish takes a fly from down stream on a line that is pulled taught they automatically hook themselves.  To prevent tippet from snapping you must give line after the initial hook set.

This is obviously different with Tenkara since there is no reel.  You must use the inherent qualities of the rod and a bit of technique to prevent the tippet from snapping.  Hold your rod pointer finger up, as you normally do, but make sure to always hold the rod palm towards down stream (back of hand upstream).  Holding the rod this way puts the rod into a powerful position.  If you cast across your body you still want your palm facing down stream.  You’ll need to raise your elbow up and keep the rod parallel to the surface of the water.

As you swing across, don’t let the rod point straight down stream.  Remember, you don’t have a reel.  At the end of your drift, hold it there.  You’ll often get a hit right there.

Swing across a couple of times, and then try a single current pass.  Trout look up stream for food, and not for it to swing across, hitting them in the face.  While casting across your body, cast down and slightly across.  With the line still in the air drop your rod to the across body side.  What this does is get the line down and away from you, but pointed straight down stream.  Allow the fly to flow straight down stream in a single current, but give it a couple of pulses every once and a while.  This adds movement to the fly and can often elicit a strike.  You can do subtle pulses, but much more blatant jerks on the fly can work too.  I know this paragraph maybe hard to follow, but we’ll add a video some time.

Chucking Streamers

I love hucking big 5′ articulated streamers with tons of weight, but only with my Western rod.  With a Tenkara rod you’ll want to toss streamers on the opposite side of the spectrum.  Smaller and lighter, but tied with materials that still provide tons of movement.  Think Bucktails with a collar of marabou or a Wooly Bugger tied with schlappen instead of stiff hackle.  The idea is to get as much bang for your buck as you can.  Tons of movement without the weight.

A Tenkara rod allows you significantly more precision.  Since you always know how long your line is, there’s no guessing as to where it’s going to land.  Hit that small pocket between boulders.  Go ahead hit that soft water under the log you know holds a fish that has never been caught.

Just like before, the cast you want to do is across the body with your elbow up and palm down stream.  The power position.  As the streamer swings across give it some gentle pulses, just like a struggling fish.  At the end of the drift you can put some erratic motions to get your streamer looking just like that dyeing fish just begging for a big fish to put an end to its life.

Landing your fish

Your fish has got you in one of the weaker positions for tenkara.  Even though you used your Tenkara rod’s huge range to cover the water fast and effectively, you still have a fish down stream of you.  If you didn’t swing all the way down you still have a bit of play in the rod.  Gently raise the rod and move yourself into a position where you are perpendicular with the fish and the river.  That way you can apply that maximum side and upwards pressure that gets fish landed so fast with a Tenkara Rod.

So, go out there, put some tweed on and maybe a rice hat.  You’ll look funny, but you’ll catch a lot of fish.     

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