Tenkara Techniques for Slack Water Trout

There are many techniques in fishing for still water trout that directly transfer to pools and slack water on rivers and streams. In my area, I am fishing tenkara in a variety of water from one foot wide 3 cfs streams to a hundred yard wide river and 14,000 cfs flow. I also fish winter stocked urban ponds close to my home. I’ve fished these urban ponds for trout over the years and the knowledge that I have gained along with fishing for trout in lakes directly relate to trout in pools and slack water in rivers and streams. 

The trout are the same however the approach in catching them needs a little adjustment. 

Trout in still water feed on the move and their behavior is based on finding and consuming food in a static environment while trout in streams and rivers find and take food in a dynamic moving environment. 

The key to approaching and catching trout in a static environment is to find them first.

I live in the desert southwest. I have to travel by car for ninety minutes to get to my closest watershed. In the winter, the cooler daytime temperatures allow for stocking of trout in city ponds and urban lakes. My long travel to go fishing now becomes a ten minute drive. During the winter, I primarily fish still water using tenkara techniques for a couple of months. I continue to hone my tenkara techniques based on those many days of fishing for still water trout. I call this type of urban fishing #untenkara.

What I have found is this type of fishing directly transfers to fishing for wild trout in pools and slack water found on streams and rivers. This convenient urban setting relates and actually helps me catch the most difficult trout in gin clear and shallow pool water in the wild.

When I fish a stream, I approach a section with care and look for structure. The flow state in a stream indicates to me where the fish are. I look at the gradient, the depth of water and the structure, how it creates the flow or I look at the flow itself and find the fish by knowing where they will hold to feed in relation to rocks, bends and structure. Trout will use the flow like soaring birds to stay in one place as the food source “flys” by in the current. The trout use very little energy in intercepting bugs to eat and fill up the tank that fuels their engine. If I do not actually see the fish, I imagine where they should be in a feeding lane or in a spot in front of a rock or behind it holding in the pressure wave. Or I will imagine them under a root ball in the flow. I will present my kebari in a methodical approach based on many years of tenkara fishing in relation to the structure and flow. I’m actually fishing structure prioritizing where I place my first casts.

When I fish a pool, I begin with a completely different mind set. Ever before I approach a pool in the wild, I’m using stealth, viewing the pool from far away, I’m looking for any signs of current and or the relation of the pool in the stream or river. I want to know where the pool is filled and where is the outflow. How deep it is, where is the deepest spot and what is the temperature. Where is the sun in relation to the pool? Is there any cover or shade?

Do I see fish actively feeding?

I assess the pool ever before I reach it, I find the fish and decide my method of approach.

Just as I fish a stream, I move upstream and approach pools from the outflow. In big rivers, I approach perpendicular from the bank.

Trout in pools typically have three types of behavior. They sometimes move in pods or groups from one place to another feeding here and there. Other times they will be dispersed through out the pool feeding selectively on their own. The will also hold to structure in the pool. If there is a varying temperature or gradient, trout will often seek the depth where cooler water is during the middle of the day.

Before I approach a pool a glade or slack water, I observe from as far away as I can, where the fish are, I find them first and then I cast to individual fish or if I see evidence of where they are, I will cast to rise rings or swirls. Pools, slow moving or still water in rivers are typically in an open environment. On a stream, a still water pool, a slick or a glade often is lined with vegetation and or trees with overhanging limbs. For all my tenkara, I use the longest rods and lines as possible. For still water where trout often have time to inspect what they eat, I will use clear fluorocarbon lines and finer tippets down to 7x. Stealth is key and even approaching the pool I will move slowly and pay attention to my foot steps not clacking rocks together or splashing as I move. The long tenkara rod and light line allows me to present to the trout in more of a vertical orientation with very little line disturbing the surface. Tenkara presentations are often “fly first” the line at an acute angler going in to the water with no line slap disturbance on the meniscus.

To review, asses the pool, quietly move into position and make your tenkara presentation in a super stealthy method with no distractions to alert the trout. This is key to successfully fishing this difficult water. 

When you catch trout in a nearly invisible pool of still water, you know you are doing well.

So I approach the pool after figuring out where the fish are and work from the closest trout to me outward. If I know the trout are nervous, as in if I scare one single trout, it will run and put the pool down, I will approach very slowly and deliberately and cast lightly. Precise pin point casting puts the fly close to the trout and often the take is immediate in pools. If I am able to see trout rising, I will cast a little beyond them and depending on the type of fly I have, I'll let it sink for a second or so before beginning to pulse the fly. 

Even in very selective water, I am not matching the hatch. I use a favorite fly that I'm confident in. The fly doesn't seem to matter, it's the stealth that matters with tenkara presentations, not matching the hatch or dead drifting. It's the fact that the trout are not alerted to your presence first. Your fly is an opportunistic meal and their attention is fully focused on feeding.

Fishing a 4-5 meter rod and a 7 to 10 meter line is in the neighborhood of 40 feet of reach. Casting at that length, I am not able to see my fly, let alone a clear fluorocarbon line. Much of what I am doing with the fly is by feel. All of my still water fishing is sub surface and most of the takes are felt or indicated by the line movement. There are times where I am so in the moment that I feel like I imagine fish. From those many days of watching my line and feeling my fly rub along the bottom, I am indicating subtle un-familiar line movements and or tiny telegraphed rattles of the lines as fish taking my fly and turning. 

I'm so in the zone and comfortable with my equipment that it seems as if I am imagining the takes that catch fish.

I am. 

That imagination of what my fly is doing gives me the cutting edge to set the hook on even the slightest change in the way that the line is behaving or in the feel of the rod. You learn to let go of thinking and start being mindful and in the moment. 

I don't think of fishing, I imagine catching.

Fishing in an urban environment allows me to inspect each and every aspect of my casting, presentation and pick up and cast again. While retrieving the fly, I am concentrating on my casting hand, what it feels as the rod tip loads, how that feeling changes, how the line drape changes as I tighten the line and pause. I have time and repetition, over and over. I keep my body in the same position, I am a machine, my body in the same position, everything the same, methodically, over and over making the same movements. Through this methodical and repetitive movement, I am able to discern the line movement and more importantly, any different movement in the line, SET!

It's this methodical approach, this repetition of casting and moving the fly, over and over the same way that I believe is the success to my understanding when to set the hook in difficult still water.

I would say that there is no magic in it but the truth of it but there is. 

How do you explain to someone this magic?

The above is the best that I can do.

Set yourself up with a method that is the same every time. Remember this method, do it the same way every single time. 

A methodical approach promotes a sixth sense for catching.

I used to wonder why watching a successful Japanese honryu angler was robot like. He moves from one area to another sampling holes, runs and holds with the same cast, the same rod angle, everything the same. It appears that he is mechanical in his cast, retrieve moving on, doing it again and again in the same fashion.

The whole rod line and fly is the indicator, the system to tell you that the fish, beyond your sight has taken the fly. The fish's mouth is small, the fly even smaller but the line is big, the rod is too, put it all together and you have a system of indication of when to set the hook.

I've written it before, it's the software of tenkara fishing that catches fish. You can stack the odds in your favor but if you aren't keeping touch with the fly, you will miss the opportunity to observe the subtle facts of the take, the feel of the line and the fluttering of the fish's tail.