Tenkara the way of the empty reel
When enjoying a day off from the fast-paced business of day-to-day guiding, does a fishing guide ever really just take a moment (or a day) to chill in the back of someone else’s boat? You know, slow things down and engage in a bit of selfish ‘me time’ without feeling compelled to constantly offer helpful instruction such as, “Mend, damnit—MEND!”? I can say that on this particular and recent day the answer was, ‘yes’.
My buddy, Derek Young, is in fact a fly fishing guide, and he joined Morris and I for a float on the Yakima River on a recent Friday when he wasn’t working: Good Friday, to be sure—a day when many of particular religious persuasions eat fish. And while I am married to a Catholic who typically eats fish on Good Friday, I opted to go one better and actually fish on Good Friday.
The Yakima is always finicky, but this is a particularly tough time of year to encounter optimal conditions and fish willing to play nicely. We did find the river holding mostly steady after coming down off some very high flows. There was still a lot of water moving downstream, but visibility was good and the water had some decent color. The water temp was still on the chilly side: 41 degrees (F) to start, warming to only 44 degrees by afternoon. But that’s enough to get bugs popping and fish rising, and we followed swarms of swallows feasting on hatching March Browns and a some BWO’s throughout the day. No fish were rising, however, despite wishfully throwing dries for a period of time. Nymphing was the only game that produced the only action of the day.
begging repeatedly offering to take a turn on the oars, did a fine job of putting me on a fine cutthroat that took the Lightning Bug dropper in some soft water inside a likely seam. It was one of those classic spots where on most rivers you know there’s going to be a fish, but on the Yakima you doubtfully hope there’s going to be a fish. In this case, there just happened to be a fish. It didn’t fight very hard, seemingly a bit sluggish from the cold water, but it was a good fish and put a nice bend in my 6 weight. It was my mistake of getting distracted while reaching for the net that allowed the fish to slip the hook. Spring is the time when the trout are spawning , and whether it was preparing to spawn or had already completed the act, I didn’t want to play the fish too long or risk injury by handling it. Clearly the right thing to do was execute a perfect, conservation-minded LDR on the fish—easily a Yakima 19 (translation: 17 inch fish). Later in the day while swinging a soft hackle nymph I had another grab followed by a couple quick head shakes but no hookup. Other than that nobody witnessed any love from the fish. Morris took great pride in having put me on the only fish of the day and I determined that the only way to avoid his insufferable boasting in the future is to never let him oar again.
But this isn’t so much about the catching, moreover the fishing—particularly the fishing of The Guide on his day off, so let’s back up a bit.
After launching the Olive boat, Morris and I loaded our fly fishing gear and watched with great curiosity as Derek grabbed his arsenal for the day. Surprisingly it was not a fly rod, but rather a Tenkara rod. Specifically, a Fast Eddy Tenkara rod. Now I know next to nothing about Tenkara other than that it is a simplistic means of fishing with a long rod and a short, fixed amount of line, and no reel. I do know that modern Tenkara owes its heritage to an ancient form of Japanese angling, and I know from studying martial arts that Karate means “empty hand” so I assume that Tenkara translates to “empty (or completely missing) reel”. I could be wrong. Whatever the exact translation, the very nature of the art of Tenkara would suggest a greater simplicity and a slower pace, so the Fast Eddy was a curious proposition. The name alone is suggestive of speed and the rod has sections of bright orange so we coined the term NASKARA: a combination of NASCAR and Tenkara. Speed Zen.
As I rowed and Morris fished with traditional fly gear out of the bow seat, we would each glance back repeatedly to watch The Guide on his day off frantically wielding the NASKARA rod. On occasion we would hear a variety of descriptive words as Derek offered his thoughts on the matter of employing the way of Tenkara on a big river from a boat. He acknowledged that this was neither the time nor the place for this form of angling, and as the day wore on, despite mastering the retrieve with both left and right hands, Derek brought the Fast Eddy in for a final pit stop and grabbed one of the fly rods. He may not have had any better success catching fish, but his casts were longer, and fewer.
A few other highlights from the day included downstream w#nd that mandated a lot of back rowing to keep the boat from racing downriver in the high flows. The w#ind also insured that the day remained on the chilly side, which resulted in the wearing of socks for The Guide on his day off. Derek claims to have naturally hot feet and fishes in sandals most of the year, and in fact started out the day with his feet clad accordingly. But as the day wore on, out came the socks. One could not help but see the irony of getting cold feet and unproductive NASKARA fishing on the same day.
Suffice it to say we had an excellent time despite typically slow fishing, and The Guide seemed to enjoy his day off. On the way home we stopped at The Brick in Roslyn for some Good Friday
fish & chips Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. A good Friday, indeed.
Hope you all had a Happy Easter.
PS: Did you notice that I didn’t dedicate an entire blog post to the fact that Show #11 of the Open Fly Podcast went live last week? It featured guide stories with Camille Egdorf and a different kind of conservation segment with Becky Selengut, author and chef. It was a good one, in case you missed it.