Unorthodox Approach Pays Off

This is a tale of Tenkara, adaptability, and success. In early February, a couple of my fishing buddies and I embarked on an exploratory journey of a section of the Lower Yuba River we’d never fished. Located in western Nevada County, California, the Lower Yuba flows from Englebright Dam to the Feather River, but most fly fishing occurs on the 4-ish miles between the Highway 20 bridge crossing and Sycamore Grove, the take out point for watercraft. So, for our expedition, Sycamore Grove was our starting point and we hiked and waded downstream from there.

Gin clear water, a sparse and wary native trout population, and fishing pressure make scoring on the Lower Yuba notoriously difficult. Nymphing is typically the most productive, but the local trout are also known to rise to dries even when there’s no discernible hatch. My personal preference is dry fly fishing, so this was my primary rig for our day on the river. Already loaded with extra clothes for changing weather, a packed lunch and water, I decided that my Tenkara rod would be a great second rod, to be used for nymphing should conditions warrant it. Its compact form, absence of a reel, and fixed line allowed me to keep it rigged and ready while taking up very little space in my sling pack.

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Upon arrival at the river we were disappointed to be met by variable winds which, as the day progressed, grew strong enough to put a hurt on dry fly casting. So, ready to switch to nymphing I realized my Tenkara line was also a bit light for handling the wind. Hmmm, what to do? Looking through my pack I found the possible answer: a 12 ft Rio Versileader with a 5IPS sink rate. I rigged this up to the Tenkara, added about four feet of fluoro leader and tied on a Tungsten Bead-head 20 Incher fly. My first couple of casts proved the effectiveness of the Versileader against the wind and its ability to get the nymph down quickly. Hiking downstream about another hundred yards I came upon a nice looking piece of water, 3-6 feet deep and slower than the main current mid-river. First cast and drift… Bang! A nice native rainbow hit and about 3 seconds later let go. Couple of more casts… another take. This one was landed after a very fun fight that involved plenty of rod play and gentle guiding to get the fish into my net. Over the next 30 minutes I hooked another three fish before the action stopped. What a blast!

My buddies, who’d gone farther downstream even before my switch to Tenkara, had been nymphing with indicator, split shot, two-fly rigs—the most popular Lower Yuba setup—all morning, so I expected to hear of similar success when I caught up to them. Not so. Between the two of them, only one hookup. By the way, these guys have relished teasing me about Tenkara since last summer when I first tried it. So, imagine my delight as I shared my experience of hooking FIVE fish AND doing it with an improvised line setup on the Tenkara.

On the drive home I noted these takeaways from the day:
1. Tenkara is an outstanding choice for packing a second rig;
2. Don’t be afraid to go a bit unorthodox (Versileader and nymph) on the Tenkara; and
3. You don’t need to cast 75 feet across the river to catch fish!

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Written by Roger Stover

As a young man living in Santa Cruz, California, Roger Stover was an avid gear fisher, focusing on salmon, trout and steelhead which were fairly abundant in the mid-1970s. As work and family responsibilities increased and relocations took him to less fishing-friendly cities, he found much less opportunity for time on the water. Always intrigued by fly fishing, Roger set his mind on taking up the sport “someday”. That “someday” arrived when he retired from Ernst&Young in 2013 and moved to the Sierra Foothills of western Nevada County, California. While not fly fishing and tying flies, Roger enjoys life with his wife of 45 years and visiting his grandchildren. Roger also serves his community in a variety of governance and planning functions, and as a member of the Board of Directors for The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley. LinkedIn profile


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Let’s hear some of your thoughts in the comments! Do you fish Tenkara and have you had similar luck too?

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