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19 November 2013

Tenkara Fly Fishing Yorkshire

A glorious day of sunny weather spent in the good company of the expert fly tier Bernard Sunderland on the River Wharfe, Yorkshire, UK.  Trout rising to various up-wings, terrestrials, and stoneflies with the river clear and low. Bernard had invited me out for more tenkara guidance and the opportunity to get a day in before the trout season ended. We leap frogged our way upstream to the point where I began filming in an area where trout often rise but prove difficult to take.

I wanted some footage of the cast, so the first part of the footage shows my attempt at capturing some of the casts I made at the tail of a pool as it runs into some rapids. I'm happy enough with what I captured but I intend to shoot more footage over the next 12 months hopefully with all the elements of light, position, and background brought together to showcase the cast to best effect. I could do with a buddy to do the filming for me.

When the video moves on I have moved position to balance precariously on a submerged uneven rock promontory. Directly in front of me lies a very deep channel where I could see trout holding quite some depth below at a distance of up to 25 feet on the far side next to an underwater rock wall.

Tenkara Fly Fishing Yorkshire from philip sheridan on Vimeo.

Modern tenkara with light carbon fibre rods, level lines of fluorocarbon up to twice the length of the rod, and a fly (kebari) more often than not fished subsurface is a visual and tactile method that requires the angler to remain attentive to the position and movement of the fly at all times. As I begin to cast and induce takes I become more and more fascinated with the way the fish rise to take the fly. I had chosen a black palmered kebari pattern as a nod to the professional fishermen from the Kurobe headstream located in the high northern alps of Japan, Bunpei Sonehara, perhaps the most well known of these. This one fly did it’s job admirably and brought to hand five brown trout, a couple above 1lb, all in superb condition.

The way the fish responded to my various presentations and manipulations of the fly (Sasoi - meaning to lure) proved the most fascinating element of the day. I presented the fly either upstream or across to work a particular seam then allowed it to go with the flow to determine its drift.  At the same time, because of the clarity of the water, I could watch the fish deep below in the channel and see how they responded to the fly’s path and how the various movements I imparted provoked a reaction.

We ought to remember that the professional fishermen of the mountainous regions had different techniques or ways to manipulate the fly to induce or invite a take from a fish. You could say tenkara, to borrow the football analogy, is a game of two halves. The first, presenting the fly to the fish, the second, working the fly to induce a take. From drag free drifts for a specific period of time to more dynamic movements all skilfully imparted by the angler. The commercial tenkara fishermen worked hard for each and every fish, their livelihoods depended not just on their approach but on their skill and ingenuity in this important element of tenkara's method. Some of the ways to work a fly appear, like particular kebari patterns, to have originated within a certain region or location, perhaps as a consequence of the river conditions, fly life, or the innovation of an individual. Each technique has a description, such as to drum, or to sweep, that evokes the movement of the fly as the fisherman deftly directs it with the rod to move in the flow.

I watched the trout track the fly backwards or sometimes adjacent to it as the fly drifted on the surface, then as it came downstream with a hold or stop of the rod tip I could send the fly subsurface. With subtle pulls, pauses and lifts of the rod I could impart life to the fly that triggered the trout to move and investigate. For example, I could reverse the fly’s direction and bring it back up the flow, for others I bring the fly across the flow with pulsed pulls or jerks. At other times, with quite a strong pull upstream I could bring the fly to the surface and skate or scratch it across the surface for a brief moments. For the most part the trout would rush in to take on those scratched movements or inducements and brought most of the fish to hand on this day. As you can see I missed my fair share of takes also, more often as not because of my inattention. I hope that next year I can bring more detailed video of these engaging techniques that have not only deepened my appreciation for tenkara as a fully rounded approach but also reinvigorated all aspects of my fly fishing.

I felt privileged to spend almost 40 minutes engaged in a game of tag with these beautiful creatures as they rose and dipped to the play of the fly. At times one fish would entertain the fly for what seemed an age, perhaps no more than 20 seconds in reality but for a moment it felt like time out of time.

Unfortunately, because the fatigue of balancing in my precarious location on my prosthetic leg eventually took its toll, hence the need to abandon my position for the final but perhaps best fish of the day to bring it into calmer water.

Filmed on a GoPro Hero 2 and uploaded as HD 720. Apologies for the misty image quality toward the end. The sunshine must have caused some minute residual moisture in the waterproof case that condensed on the inside.

Tight lines and happy tenkara


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