Sunday, March 25, 2012

I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so

I recently picked up an interesting book called Tenkara: Radically simple, ultralight fly fishing, by Kevin Kelleher and Misako Ishimira. In it, Kelleher presents the ancient angling method that apparently arose sometime in the 1600s. It involves a long, wispy  ferrule-less rod and tapered line used to flick small flies in tranquil Japanese mountain streams. He wrote that it began with poor people fishing for food and that it was favored by samurai warriors in their off time. Sounded cool to me.

After more reading though, I realized that Kelleher wrote a 145-page book about fishing with a cane pole.  Despite details about hand-furled line and techniques that look a Karate Kid training session, it is basically the simple cane pole that I grew up using in Indiana. We used them to catch crappie and bluegill in tight spots near logs and weeds.  It is an efficient way to fish tight water, which is just what I was looking to do this Saturday.

I stopped by Suds-n-Soda and picked up a 10 foot telescoping rod for $7.95.  They had a nice selection of rods ranging from 10 to 12 feet that apparently ice-less smelt fishermen use in Rye Harbor off the docks. I bought a sleek one called ":Black Widow", an oddly aggressive name for a long fiberglass stick.
Just a light, tapered 10' fiberglass rod - Black Widow!
I could gently drop the worm so it danced on the surface
And fish went crazy for it. 
I could look at fish all day.  Nice male bluegill. 
About the size of an adult banded sunfish, but no such luck. 
Small bluegill. Banded sunfish have a rounded tail, not forked. 
Banded sunfish share habitat with golden shiners, so catching  this one gave me more hope. 
Dark male bluegills, probably cause the water is clear and the vegetation is dark. 

I bought some red worms and headed out to Ice Pond in Hampton, where banded sunfish have been collected by NH Fish and Game biologists.  We have been trying to catch this small sunfish for months and I figured that cane pole fishing, I sorry - tenkara, would be an efficient way to catch tons of small sunfish, thus increasing my chances of catching the one we needed for the quest.
Ice Pond is a nice little shallow pond in Hampton. 

The  nice thing about fishing with a fiberglass cane pole is that they are wicked light. I could easily hold the butt of the rod and wave it like a conductor at the pond, dropping the hooked worm in every little nook and cranny in the weeds.

As expected, I caught many sunfish, mostly bluegills, but some pumpkinseeds too. All in all I probably caught 50 fish in about an hour.  One after the other.  My volume fishing theory failed though. If  banded sunfish were there, they were getting out competed by the aggressive bluegill.  I did enjoy the simplicity of tenkara and I will likely do it again for some of the small fish still remaining in the Quest.


  1. The light telescopic pole will be ideal for some of the fish on your list (hopefully including the banded sunfish). It is not really accurate to describe what you were doing as tenkara, though, which very specifically is a type of fly fishing.

    After having been tenkara fishing for several years now for the predictable trout, bass and bluegills, I am starting to follow your path and fishing for other species and using other methods. I'll still be using a light telescopic pole, and it will be just as much fun, but I'm using a bit of worm or small bread ball I won't call it tenkara.

    1. We hear ya Chris. Garden hackle bumps it out of the flyfishing definition. Really psyched about your search for more species on your tenkara rod. Be sure to report back your success.

      The fish were really aggressive that day, hitting the bobber often (yikes, another tenkara violation). I am sure they would have hit a fly. If I took off the float and used a fly, would that have counted as tenkara? Might be the ticket for banded sunfish. Tenkara for koi probably would make them homesick.

      Thanks again for the comment and good luck fishing.

  2. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your posts, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the excellent work.

    1. Scot - glad you like it. Please post your fishing successes here so you can join in on the fun. Once our book is written we'll be posting more often.

  3. They use a less elegant form of this out west on the rocks and jetties. It's a 10'-14' pole with a 2"-4" leader. The pole is stuck down into holes in the rocks to find the fish.
    I wish I had had your set up last week. A particularly persnickety Larry was set up in about a foot of water 10' from the shore, but he was not happy about the splashy intrusions of my casts. He would swim away, and then come back, and away and back. I'll be stopping by Suds and Soda tomorrow to rectify this problem.

    1. Hey Odd,

      Wondering if you got that Larry. Suds and Soda had cool 12 yellow poles, but I went for the less expensive one. The other day I wish I had that extra two feet. Growing up we had a 20' fiberglass one that rocked. Be sure to let us know when you start catching odd fish in the salt this year. Cheers.