Whenever I start to learn a new outdoor activity, I like to keep track of my experiences and what I learn when I’m a beginner (see Beginner’s Mind.) Such is the case with my new hobby, Tenkara fly fishing along mountain streams which is an ideal complement for someone who likes hiking and backpacking into remote wilderness areas. While I had a guided lesson a few weeks ago, there’s still a lot to learn, perhaps a lifetimes worth – so I’m trying to catch up!
If you know what you are doing or you’re in the same boat, I’d love to hear from you.
Saco River at Fourth Iron
I spent a few hours fishing on Thursday at the confluence of the Saco River and the Sawyer River next to the Fourth Iron Campsite in Crawford Notch. This is a great walk-in campsite to remember, with eight designated campsites that only cost $8/night. The campsites are right at the confluence of the two rivers along with a huge swimming hole. If you do swim here, I’d advise wearing water shoes in the water because bait fisherman fish the pool and undercut.
I fished the riffles above the undercut rock for a while but didn’t get any action, so I moved up the the confluence of the Saco and the Sawyer and fished the riffles there. The water was warm enough that I could wade without gaiters. The stream bed is mostly rocks, with some sand along the shores. Maximum depth was probably 3 feet.
I wanted to try fishing the confluence of these two rivers because I figured they’d a high concentration of bugs, coming from two different streams. I was drifting my line through this section but didn’t detect any bites.
I figured I needed to find better trout habitat, so I moved up the Sawyer, which is much smaller than the Saco, and started fishing the undercut rocks along the side of the river. Pow! I immediately caught a nice 8″ Rainbow trout. He put up a good fight for about a minute until he got tired and I could net him along the bank. I released him back into the stream.
I moved up the Sawyer a bit more to fish some more riffles and pools that were in shade, partially covered by trees. My fly got caught a few times overhead, but I was able to release it without breaking the tippet. No bites. Sawyer Pond is stocked 5 miles upstream, so I bet there are more trout in it. The riverbed is easily wade-able/walk-able and worth coming back to.
Saco River – Harts Location
Harts Location is the smallest town in America and the second to vote in the New Hampshire Presidential Primary Election. It’s just north of Bartlett on Rt 302. I stopped at a pull-off next to a big rock with a deep pool that I saw from the road. I don’t have a photo of it, but it is under the Hart’s Location sign heading north. No bites. The water here might have been too deep, but it was late in the afternoon on an overcast day, so I was hopeful I’d get some nibbles.
Dry River – Suspension Bridge to Dry River Shelter
I backpacked up the Dry River Trail in the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness at the foot of Mt Washington in New Hampshire. I didn’t see anyone for two days.
The Dry River is a small stream near the base of Mt Washington but grows into a huge river by the time it flows into the Saco, 10 miles downstream. I only had time to fish four spots along the river on my second day and lost a lot of flies in the process. I was nymphing from the side of the river- letting my fly float downstream with the most of the leader out of the water – and my flies kept getting stuck between rocks in the riffles.
I think the solution is to do more wading and walk up the river instead of casting from the side. That’s difficult to do on the Dry River until you get lower in the stream and the gradient flattens out. If I cast more frequently and do shorter drifts with my rod held up or literally cast and then lift with as short a tippet as possible, I think I’ll probably lose less flies.
The section just above the suspension bridge over the Dry River has a lot of big pools with undercut rocks and the bridge makes it easy to access both sides of the river without the need for a hairy ford. When I come back, I’ll start working from this point and head downstream in a big section of flat shallow water.
I burned through 8 flies on the Dry River trip and only had one left in my fly box when I hiked out. Luckily, I had a package with 3 dozen flies waiting for me when I arrived home, so I’m restocked. I found a good supplier of cheap western style and Tenkara flies (Tenkara Fly Shop) that prices them at $0.55-0.75 each, which is a lot less expensive that the ones I bought at Tenkara USA. Even then, I have to cut down on my fly loss rate or this hobby is going to get expensive fast. The inexpensive Tenkara Fly Shop flies are tied in Kenya. I plan to test them out on the Zealand River and another section of the Saco River next weekend but they look fine to my untrained eye.
After this trip, I have a much bigger appreciation of the importance of trout habitat and overcast skies when fishing. Polarized sunglasses are also invaluable for seeing my line and into the stream. I just have to remember to bring them with me.
A fishing buddy of Ken Elmer, the Western Massachusetts fishing guide who gave me my first Tenkara lesson, has been coaching me a bit via email this week and it’s been really helpful, if not expensive. He turned me on to the website TenkaraBum which has a lot of useful Tenkara beginner information and gear for sale.
The TenkaraBum recommends that beginners use a hi-visibility fluorocarbon line instead of a traditional tapered braided line because a line you can see better will help you detect strikes better and catch more fish. I’m using a traditional braided and tapered Tenkara line, which I like, but I’m going to try a high visibility fluorocarbon level line instead and see what happens.
The TenkaraBum also sells all-in-one tie flying kits that walk you through the process of making one western or Tenkara fly. Each kit comes with the ingredients to tie 25 flies, so I ordered one (Killer Bugger) and hope to use them to fill out my fly box as I inevitably lose more flies.
This sport is addictive….