Tenkara, the first time……..

Call me lame or lazy. But, I have walked away from the conventional and the overly complex nuisances of conventional bait fishing and fly fishing for the simplicity of tenkara fishing. It really started when my wife and I were starting our Airstream experiment. I realized that I needed to par down all my fishing equipment to only the essentials that I needed to catch fish. Really, it came down to a lack of storage space.

Like any nerd with excess time on my hands I started doing my research on which rod I was going to start with. Now there are an infinite amount of choices out there from cheap Chinese rods on Amazon to expensive starter kits from what I would consider “hipster” brands found at almost any mom and pop outdoor equipment store. I realized that I didn’t want an American version of a Japanese rod and that I wanted one that was produced domestically in Japan. Call me a stickler for that kind of thing. I eventually discovered http://www.tenkarabum.com. I was sold. He was a guy that is so into this style of fishing he has imported almost every imaginable rod that I could want, all from Japan. The massive variety of the equipment carried on this website is awesome, especially there is some much information from not only Chris but people have used each of these rods. Plus, the photos with each of the rods gave me a good idea of what size of fish it is possible to catch with a particular rod.

I decided on a TenkaraBum 36 and some 3.0 level line. The TenkaraBum series rods are made by a company in Japan and my rod is legit. It casts like a dream. When it arrived I was so excited. I had everything that I needed to make a quick trip to a nearby pond at the Linkhorn Bay Apartments, it didn’t matter that every time that I have fished this pond I have had mediocre luck at best. I was determined and with an ample supply of flies, I was ready to go.

The one thing that sucks about this pond is that it is ringed with trees and brush all around the bank, except for a little fishing dock. You really have to keep it low when casting or else you will just add another decoration to the tree branches above it. It looks like a messed up Christmas tree with a massive assortment of bobbers. It was October and the water was definitely starting to cool off and like always the wind in Virginia Beach is blowing one way or the other. So I could only cast in one direction.

I was rigged up with twelve feet of 3.0 level line and six feet of 4x tippet. The terminal tackle was a size 12 bead head black wooly bugger and a stick on strike indicator. First cast dead easy and accurate, I slow count to ten as I let the bugger sink. I do this about 20 times. Suddenly, I see the strike indicator slip under the water and I feel a strong tug on the line, I lift and set the hook. I really didn’t expect to catch anything on this first outing, I hadn’t thought about the logistics of getting unto the bank. So I did what came naturally and let this guy swim from side to side while putting a little pressure on him by lifting up my rod. The whole time I was worried that he was going to break off my tippet.

As I played him I finally got him close enough to see that I had hooked into a decent little bass, something I had failed to do so many other times with other methods. I got him close to the dock and realized that I needed to walk him around so I could get clear of the four foot rail that runs around this dock. I finally got him on the bank and right then I was sold on tenkara.

I think there is a psychological reason that I got back into flinging bugs, rooted in the peer pressure that I was feeling when all of my friends and family fly fish. I could hear them thinking the question as they would look at the pictures I would send them, “Did you catch that on the fly?”. Maybe that isn’t what they were thinking at all, who knows? I guess subconsciously I would think that somehow bait chucking was somehow taking the easy road.

For the last year I was caught up in the pursuit of catching carp using the UK style, which can basically be described as “bait and wait”. Did I catch enormous fish? Yes. Was I bored to death? Yes. So as the winter rains in Tidewater gave way to spring I got back out there for another session. After an hour I got my first carp of the season. After this session, I realized that my heart wasn’t into this method of fishing anymore it was time to move on.

So as my season starts up, I am only going to fish tenkara and see where it takes me. Above all I just don’t want to be bored while I am fishing. I like the simplicity of rod, line and fly. It doesn’t get any easier than that.


We left for Bristol, Tennessee, right after I got home from work on Thursday.  I had taken a few days of leave, to ensure that I did not have to report for duty on Memorial Day.  The trip from Virginia Beach is about six hours.  The nice part of making this trip in the summer is that you get a few extra hours of daylight.  There is no light once you start to move to the western part of Virginia, the only way to see where you are going is to follow the tail lights ahead of you.  The worst part of the trip leaving the beach is through the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT) all the way up through Williamsburg.  Talk about traffic slowing to a crawl.

I had an idea of the two spots that I possibly wanted to fish when I got to Bristol.  The first being the Lake Holston behind the dam and the second was the lake at Steel Creek.  I landed up choosing the lake at Steel Creek because I had a little more recon on it than the other.  My intelligence source was a few random pictures of some decent looking carp that I had trolled through on Fishbrain.  Looking for good information on carp in any body of water is always a challenge because hardly anyone accounts for them when they do catch them.  Oh well such is life.

My preparations for this fishing trip had accidentally started two weeks prior to our departure.  I was setting up for a fishing trip for the prior Saturday and I had recently purchased a decent bite alarm for one of my rigs.  I was stoked that I was going to be able to finally go out and hit the water in complete European style; this feeling was to end very quickly.  I don’t store my batteries inside my bite alarms when not in use so I popped in a nine volt battery and immediately began to smell burning electronics and little whiffs of white smoke.  The agony of defeat.

Not one to quit because of some technical difficulties I quickly started making some bait for my method feeders and bait casting rigs.  The upside was that prior to leaving for Bristol I didn’t have to make up any bait packs.  The night before my bite alarm failed I was busy stuffing three inch PVA mesh bags with my favorite combination of World Classic Baits Tutti Frutti Panko and strawberry booster, rolled oats and my Kokanee Korn Killer cured corn.  I was a bait packing machine I got 23 of those mesh bags packed that night ready for action.  They were sitting in my refrigerator until we left for our little out of town excursion.

Using PVA mesh bags are my favorite way to go after fish.  I don’t use anything fancy like pellets or ground baits, I stick with the classics.  So it might seem like a waste of PVA to pair with basic baits but, I like the confidence that the PVA bag affords me.  I like knowing that my bait is going to be perfectly presented every time.  I enjoy being able to chuck my bait out further than I can with my method feeders.  My rigs are all set up super light and small nothing over an ounce and half inline lead set to a hair rig with enough hair to place both a buoyant and sinking plastic corn.  I can’t use boilies fishing in the summer in Virginia because the turtles will destroy my bait before the carp even have a chance to check everything out.

I use a size six curved hook for just about everything now.  It affords me the chance to go after fish large and small.  I am only out on the water one day of the week so attention to detail is the key to putting fish in the net.

Nothing goes as planned.  I had to leave behind my rods and equipment because there is only so much available space in a VW Sportswagen and we were also transporting a 50 inch television in the back seat,  plus our two small dogs and their oversized crate for the weekend.  Lack of equipment did not deter me from my ultimate goal of catching some carp at Steel Creek Lake.  I would have my day.

Late Saturday evening I had made up my mind that I was going to fish regardless of my lack of fancy equipment.  I proceeded to the local Walmart to outfit myself for my fishing endeavor.  I had purchased my Tennessee day license, two cheap Shakespeare Tiger rods, rod holders, a pack of half ounce egg sinkers, a six pack of size 6 snelled hooks, cans of corn, panko, oatmeal and the crucial strawberry Jell-O.

The weather had been on and off for the last two days, rainy and muggy.  But, at 0900 on Sunday morning there was no rain and it was partly cloudy with gray rain clouds looming on the horizon.

When I arrived at Steel Creek Lake, I saw no other anglers lining up on the banks.  This could also be because it was Memorial Day weekend and there are a lot of people travelling.  I proceeded to scan the water for signs of carp activity.  A welcome sign, I immediately saw feeding trails and the water was thick with bubbles.  I was more than ready to start fishing.  I had already rigged my lines up the night before.  My rigs always sport the double surgeon’s loops except on my terminal tackle.

The only difference in my rigging was that I was setting up pay lake style and I lacked both the hair rig and the method feeder.  Fishing pay lake style has its drawbacks as I would soon learn.  I was using two kernels of corn on the hook bend on size six bait holder hooks, for the duration of the session I did not lose any of my kernels to falling off.  The problem was without the method feeder it was a pain in the ass to keep the dough ball on the rig.  I made about 30 casts that session and probably had about 10 where the dough ball landed up being flung off into the drink.  I finally sorted the problem out by packing the ball then smooshing the lead into the center and then packing more dough on top and I had to keep compressing the ball to make sure it stayed solid.

(Picture below was from another outing to Steel Creek, only to give scale to the carp that are in there. They are all about this size!)

The magic started about five minutes after my first line was soaking.  I had set up my rods vertically in some of those rod holders that look like a pig’s tail, since these reels didn’t have freeline capabilities I had the drag on next to nothing.  That first one of the day hit the line and I could hear the familiar whiz of line paying off the reel and that nice little bow in my rod tip.  Once, I had my rod in hand I knew that I wasn’t playing a very large fish, I let him make the first run then tightened up my drag.  I pulled him a little and relaxed the drag.  He didn’t have any more fight left in him.  What was awesome was that the water was super clear and I could see the fish getting played all the way to the bank.  Once on the bank I estimate he was probably three to four pounds.  I will take it.

For the next two and a half hours, I took about fifteen fish in various sizes none of them topping more than eight pounds.  It is always nice to catch fish.

What I did realize about myself and fishing is that I was disappointed at the fish that I did catch.  I know that most people would say catching some fish is better than catching no fish.  Well, catching fish of that size was like catching none.  Like all things in fishing there is always a next time and as I was reeling in fish after fish, I could clearly see the bigger fish that I was after just out of my casting range.  But, this is why I keep coming back.  I am not satisfied unless I am going after the biggest possible carp that I can find.  I would rather be skunked than to see those fish just outside my reach than to fill my net with mediocre size fish.

Steel Creek Lake…..yes I will be back again…..