This was by far the best Tenkara Fly Fishing season I’ve had in the past 10 years. Despite a terrible summer drought, I was able to use my knowledge of the White Mountain’s drainages to find fishable water from May through September and into early October when we got a decent amount of rain. With the end of the New Hampshire fishing season on Saturday, October the 15th, I thought I’d jot down some notes so I can remember what I did right next spring when the trout wake up again.
Tenkara Fishing and Hiking/Backpacking
The best Tenkara Fly Fishing is on small rivers and streams that you need to hike into to reach. Sure, you can fish from the road like many trout fishermen and fisherwomen, but it’s much more satisfying to identify a blue line on a topo map, plan a trip to reach it, and fish in a beautiful place that few, if any, have ventured to before.
Some people eat the fish they catch, but I throw them back in. The native New Hampshire trout don’t get very large (at least not the ones in streams) so there’s not much point in eating them. While the rainbows do get huge, I don’t fish a lot of rivers where they live and I throw those back in any way. The use of non-barbed hooks helps minimize injury to the fish, although it makes it much more difficult to land fish since they can wiggle off your hook.
What’s the point of fishing on a hiking or backpacking trip? They complement each other. Unless you hike alone, it’s very difficult to pay attention to the minutiae around you, and even more so if you’re rushing to a destination. Fishing slows things down and lets you pay attention to the details you miss if you’re just hiking through. The fish, the geology of the streams, the flow of the water, insect life…there are all kinds of things happening in the forest that you can discover and learn about that enrich your outdoor experience.
One of the reasons hikers and backpackers like Tenkara Fly Fishing is because it’s so lightweight and simple. My entire backcountry fishing kit, which is fairly elaborate, weighs less than a half pound. You don’t have to carry live bait, Tenkara rods are relatively inexpensive, and you don’t have to learn any fancy casting techniques.
River and Streams
I visited a lot of small rivers and streams this year, but I spent the most time at the Ellis River and the Dry River, which are both near my cabin in the Whites. There is a downstream section of the Ellis that is “reel” only, but I fish it way upstream in its headwaters, where the reel-less method of Tenkara Fly Fishing is legal. The Dry River is in a Wilderness Area where it’s also legal to fish without a reel. In fact, there are only a few rivers that are “reel-only” in New Hampshire. They’re listed in the New Hampshire Freshwater Fishing Digest. You can download a copy (PDF) to your smartphone when you buy a fishing license.
I also fished quite a few other streams and rivers this year, usually on day hikes and backpacking trips.
- East Branch of the Pemigewasset River
- North Branch of the Pemigewasset River
- Sawyer River
- Hancock Branch
- Carrigan Branch
- Pond Brook
- Downes Brook
- Cedar Brook
- Baker River
- Saco River
- 19 Mile Brook
- Wildcat River
- Bog Brook
- Wild River
- Spruce Brook
- Red Brook
- Amonoosuc River
- North and South Branch of the Gale River
- Franconia Brook
- Lincoln Brook
- Peabody River
- Rocky Branch
- Thomson Brook
- Zealand River
- The Little River
There are also many rivers and streams I wanted to visit that I just couldn’t get to because I didn’t have the time:
- West Peabody River in the Great Gulf
- Mad River in Mad River Notch
- Synder Brook on Mt Madison
- Monroe Brook on Mt Monroe
- Whiteface River and the Wonalancet River near Mt Whiteface
- Cold River and the BeeBee River in the Sandwich Range
- Cascade Brook in Franconia Notch
- Dead Diamond in the Second College Grant
I expanded my use of dry flies this year and it made all the difference. Traditionally, Tenkara flies are nonrepresentational, meaning they don’t imitate insects, unlike non-Tenkara flies which are almost always representational. I fish both because I’m more interested in what works.
Flies are either wet flies, meaning they sink below the water’s surface, or dry flies, which float on top of it. It helps to carry both because you never know what the trout will want on any given day. In the past, I’ve mostly fished wet flies and some dry flies. But this year I fished dry flies almost exclusively and my success rate jumped by an order of magnitude. There was seldom an outing when I didn’t catch 10 or more brook trout. I was shocked by the difference.
There’s very little difference between fishing a wet fly and a dry fly in a mountain stream or river. You still have to understand trout behavior and how to read trout water, which means understanding the type of river structures where the trout lie, waiting for food to float by in the current. You still want to keep your line out of the water and to follow the fly downstream with the rod tip in order to minimize drag. The only real difference is the position of the fly in the water and the fact that you can usually see the strike with a dry fly if you’re paying attention.
The star of this summer’s catch was a bleached Elk Hair Caddis dry on a size 16 barbless hook. Mine look more like snowballs than a classic Elk Hair Caddis, but they are super easy to tie and the trout go after them like crazy. I also fished Adams, Parachute Adams, and Ausable Wulfs this year, but my Elk Hair Caddis was the hands-down most successful fly all season. While I tie most of my own flies, I often make variations in the materials or patterns I use depending on what kind of feathers or animal hair I have in my tying “desk”.
I focused on my “presentation” technique this year to make my flies behave more like bugs in the water. My focus was on eliminating any drag between my line and the fly in order to create a natural drift that wouldn’t spook the trout. This involved carefully tracking the tip of my rod with the fly as it floats downstream. I also used a longer tippet with dry flies, so I could float them into position while minimizing drag. That worked very well.
Now that I’ve become a competent Tenkara fisherman, finally, I’ve started to take my friends out to introduce them to the sport because it’d be nice to have company on my trips. I feel that I have some insights into how to teach beginners, including people with no fishing experience since I am self-taught and had to pick a lot of things up the hard way.
A lot of Tenkara is muscle memory so it just takes lots of practice and experience fishing different streams and rivers, at different flow rates and at different times of the year. But there are basic aspects of trout behavior, reading trout water, rod setup, and presentation techniques that can save you a lot of frustration if someone would just show them to you. I took five friends out for lessons this year and will probably continue with that level of outreach next year.
There is 2″ of rain forecast for tonight and Friday, which doesn’t bode well for the last day of the 2022 Fishing Season this Saturday, since the water gets too fast for the fish to hover midstream after a big storm. That means I’ll probably be fishing the Ellis River for the last time this year while you’re reading this entry. Looking back, it’s kind of amazing just how much fishing I managed to get in this year, given how much hiking I did, which was a lot. I just hope next year is as good as this one was for both.