Winter fishing around SW Montana has been particularly popular this year, as we have seen more days in the 50’s than the typical sub-freezing weather. Warmer days and cloud cover bring fish to the surface as the blanket midge hatches explode on the Madison, Yellowstone, and Gallatin Rivers. Nymphing along deep seams and through the slower parts of your favorite deep hole can make for some of the most memorable days of the early year. This is one of our favorite times of year to get out the Tenkara gear and search for rising fish along the Lower Madison and the Yellowstone.
Tenkara-style fly-fishing continues to grow in popularity throughout the west and it’s is much more than a “gateway” for the inexperienced angler to the complexities of fly-fishing. Using a telescopic graphite rod with a fixed line and a fly will test the skills of the most experienced angler while creeping along the bank, looking for slow rising heads. To be successful, an angler needs to be able to identify the best holding water and carefully plan an approach to ensure that the correct presentation is achieved.
Delicate presentations can make the difference between success and failure during a winter rise. Tenkara USA rods like the Sato and Iwana have very smooth, slow actions that make soft presentations seem second nature. Their flexible upper sections make for easy and effective hook sets while using fine tippets like 5X and 6X while giving plenty of protection through the initial run.
The simplicity of this style of winter fishing has enabled countless, experienced fly anglers, to look at the familiar in a new light. Literally, all that is needed is a rod, line, and fly (some fly dressing too). We tend to lean more towards the traditional Tenkara USA lines in the 11’ range with a few feet of 5X tippet added for a total length of 15-16’. The traditional lines allow for delicate presentations of small dries when you need to be within a foot or two of the rising fish. As far as the flies go, we just use the same flies that we would normally use whenever we Tenkara fish.
The stiffer rods like the Ito and Hane are more ideally suited for fishing areas with larger fish (over 18+) and fishing larger flies. We really appreciate the stiffness of the Hane for most of our winter nymphing when fishing with Tenkara gear. The Hane is much stiffer than the other Tenkara USA rods, which is very helpful for quick hook-sets while fishing under an indicator rig. We prefer to use a small section of coated running line from an old fly line in these situations. The coated line floats better than other line choices which comes into play with better mending and line control when nymph-fishing. We typically will add a tapered leader to the end of the 10-15’ section of fly line. Again, we go with the same flies we would normally use in these situations and add split shot accordingly.
Tenkara fishing continues to grow in popularity with more experienced anglers as it opens up new challenges. Landing a 16-18” trout on Tenkara gear requires skill and agility that is often not required when using conventional fly-fishing gear. Tenkara rods are very flexible and the rod can be used to quickly bring a fish to hand while protecting fine tippets. A willingness to improvise and move around with a fish early on in the fight is imperative to land larger trout in big rivers! Fish are landed by holding the rod in one hand under a heavy bend and grabbing the tippet or fish with the other hand (a long-handled net is helpful).
We were skeptical of Tenkara fishing ourselves when it started becoming popular about 4 years ago. However, after trying it ourselves the last few years, we’ve come to understand the many nuances and challenges that this style of fly-fishing has to offer. It is one of the most enjoyable ways to fly fish typical western rivers where the majority of the resident trout are in the 10-16” range. So, if you are heading out this winter and thinking about ways to improve your skills and maybe have some more fun doing it…think Tenkara!
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