By Andy Marks
In the late 60s our parents took my brothers and me, ages 1-12, from Chicago to Minnesota each summer to fish on Lake Kabetogama (since then part of Voyageurs National Park). We fished for walleye and northern pike with Rapalas, Dare Devils and minnows. Dad spent his vacation working the rented boat, motor and getting us unsnagged.
Some nights Tullibee (Coregonus artedi) would surface feed on mayflies (Hexagenia limbata (?)) 20-30’ from the dock. Our spinning gear put them down, but cane poles with monofilament to a single small hook came out of nowhere. We picked mayflies off trees and cabin walls, put them on our shirts, and returned to the dock to hook one on and cast it to the fish. It wasn’t spin casting, but we didn’t much care. It was more like tossing hooked mayflies into a spinner fall (Cripples and Spinners, Kelly Galloup). It was the most fun of the evening. No one thought to call it “canepoling Tullibee”.
Caught fish went to the dump in the resort owner’s pickup when it got too dark to fish. Then we watched from the car as black bears wandered out to eat the fish (and look in the cars). That was fun too.
Fifty years later I took up fly fishing. This year I realized I had fly fished before. There was an evening hatch of gigantic mayflies that caused whitefish to rise to the surface to eat them. We set the hook by lifting the rod tip when our fly vanished. It was different though. We didn’t “cast the line” and rely on its leader, tippet and fly to follow. I don’t recall how we cast mono and an actual mayfly 20-30’ to the fish, but it had to be something like a steeple cast, or a water haul. It wasn’t conventional fly fishing, it was more like Tenkara fishing.
Fly fishing with Tenkara gear is fun. There’s no setup time. Casting is child’s play. It requires a long rod, an attached monofilament line, a small single hook, and a fly. You cast to fish 20-30’ feet away and reach them with a 4 m rod and 4 m line. You land fish by raising the rod tip until the line gets close enough to grab and then pull the fish up.
All this clicked one day. I don’t spend 20 minutes behind my car setting up a fly rod if I didn’t bring one. The back of my car has less gear in it then too. I don’t need my vest, and even then, my pockets aren’t full of fly boxes. If I plan to wet wade I drive to the river in my Astral Loyak ACs, park, grab my 6L pack, and hike to a fishy spot. My collapsed Tenkara rods are in two narrow pockets on the side of my pack. I leave them collapsed until I’m ready to fish: It’s no fun weaving through brush with a long delicate extended rod. I unspool the line from a line keeper on the rod, stretch it in 1 m segments, then extend the rod section by section until the tippet is nearby waiting for a fly. I pick a sinking, wet, or dry fly based on the water I’m fishing. I check the area behind me to avoid a snag on the first cast. Then I work the water. The fly is never far away. I let it drift as much as possible, but adjust its path if or when I spot submerged plants, mammals, fencing, etc. My casts are usually short and simple, and the tenkara rod is very handy when picking apart a rock garden or stretch of dead fall.
Bio: I’m 65, I live in UT, fish in UT, in WY, Yellowstone, and ID. I’ve been fly fishing for 2 ½ years, I have 15 fly rods and 4 tenkara rods and since I’ve used the latter I haven’t touched the former. LMK if this is close to what you want.