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Trip Report: The Accidental Discovery of a Technique

On March 3, 2013
Comments (7)

With the end of the Fly Fishing Show season I finally feel that I can enjoy my new home  and the new homewaters that surround it. There are two beautiful streams within a 10 minute drive from home, but I have barely fished them at all since arriving here. Between moving in, visiting family in Brazil and being gone every weekend for the shows, with barely time to catch up with other stuff in between, I was really missing the water. I have to get my priorities straight again.

Yesterday evening Margaret and I went to check out Eldorado Canyon, an area we hadn’t yet visited since moving here and through which South Boulder Creek runs.  We had our dog along, and not much sunlight left. So I really wasn’t focused on fishing. But, I also had brought a tenkara rod and my kit along just in case. We hiked through some snow down to the stream, which had a pretty good amount of water, and I setup my rod. It is winter, the fish tend to hold deeper and be less active, and since Margaret wasn’t fishing I told her I was just going to try “a few casts”. I wasn’t expecting much.

Tenkara Fly-fishing on South Boulder Creek

Feeling the hope that all anglers feel when they cast to a pool, I proceeded to cast my fly, an Oki kebari, to the first pool. I apprehensively awaited for a strike, but nothing on the first dead drift. I cast three or four more times, and moved to the next pool. This pool looked “fishier”. I did one dead drift, but nothing; and so I decided to pulsate my fly a little. Nothing still.“Don don, don don”, I heard Dr. Ishigaki’s voice in my head reminding me to move on.

On the third pool, a slightly slower run, I decided to get my fly down. I cast upstream from the water entering the pool, drifted the fly into the plunge, and let the white turbulence take my fly down with it. After a couple of seconds I could see the fly drifting. It was about 15 inches below the surface. A fish came to check it out, and rejected it in the last second.

Normally an angler less stubborn than I – or perhaps someone with more time – may opt to change the fly. But in my mind if a fish came to check it out, it is because it was interested in eating it. I must have done something wrong, perhaps there was some drag on my line, or perhaps I just didn’t quite trigger it. I knew my fly was not the problem. It was now just a matter of figuring how to present it. I still had the Oki kebari on.

Oki Kebari - Tenkara Fly on South Boulder Creek WinterThe next pool would have to be my last attempt. Even though the temperature was a comfortable 45 degrees, we were in the shadow of majestic cliffs and there was still plenty of snow on the ground. I could see our dog was also getting a bit impatient, and I’m sure Margaret was starting to get cold. I cast my fly a few times, trying a combination of sinking my fly, and drifting it very slowly. For a moment I think I had a follow.

Too many times I have told Margaret, “just one last cast,” but like the boy who cried wolf, she no longer believed me when I said that. It was time to go.

Normally I pull the fly to me before collapsing the rod, get it hooked on my line holder, and proceed to wind the line around it. This time there were a lot of trees surrounding me, to avoid having to wrestle with them I collapsed the rod first. The fly had remained in the water; as it was caught in a whirlpool it didn’t move down with the current. I grabbed the line to bring the fly to me. Hand-over-hand I pulled the slack line that laid on the water immediately in front of me. With the slack gone, I suddenly I felt a slight tension on my line. I assumed I got caught on a branch, but one more pull and the line wiggled. I had a fish on! A perfect end to a beautiful evening.

Interestingly, I remember someone once telling a new tenkara angler to specifically take the fly out of the water when packing for the day lest a fish take it and possibly break the rod tip. I do not remember who said that, and didn’t ask if that had ever happened to him, but for me that was a first.

I found the trigger technique for the evening accidentally: let the fly sink for a while, then pull it slowly a couple of times. Since I had to leave I couldn’t prove the technique would work if I kept doing it in more pools. But, with so much built up fishing desired, I knew I was going to return to the stream this morning.

I arrived at the stream at 9:15AM, and went to the pool immediately above where I caught my fish yesterday. Same rod, same line, same fly. And, guess what technique produced the most fish today? Yes, letting it sink slowly and then pulling twice or three times, slowly, about 1ft at a time. That triggered several fish.

Brown trout caught on tenkara Fly-fishing on South Boulder Creek

I caught about 12 fish between 9:15 and 12 o’clock. While I did catch a few on dead drifts, and one fish just by dragging the fly on the surface, I’d say about 8 were caught on the sink and pull technique. It was a remarkable morning and my day went by much better because of this great start. I’m glad to be out on the water again, and hopefully new insights and reports will come out of my newly found priority.

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7 Responses to Trip Report: The Accidental Discovery of a Technique

  1. Dale H. says:

    Nice story. The early WI trout season opened this past weekend, but I was unable to make it out. Your story here gives me another trick to try when I do make it out. Right now it is cold water, alot of snow, and more snow coming tonight.


  2. Matt (statikpunk) Donovan says:

    I stumbled on a similar technique Daniel, and have been using it this spring with some success. what led me to it was I was casting into a pool and would let the fly sink, the fish would swim up real fast like they were going to strike then at the last second they would stop take a long look and reject the fly. so I thought to myself “well im just not gonna let them get a good look at it.” so I started giving the fly a quick jerk just as the fish got to within inspecting distance and bam! fish on almost every time. I think the technique was triggering their “oh crap! my food is getting away” instinct.

  3. David says:

    I’ve had success with a similar technique on my local river. Drifted or pulsed the fly and no hits. Then after letting the fly drift and sink a little. Just a steady slow pull and the fish would hit the fly.

    I wasn’t really expecting this to attract the fish. I was really just pulling the line to prepare a cast to a different spot. I thought this would be an unnatural movement the fish would be suspicious of . Yet I found it worked and had success with the slow pull again casting to a different spot. Sometimes something you don’t expect to work. Does.

  4. Tim says:

    Hi Daniel, I had only recently discovered that you moved to the Boulder area. I live in Denver and I love fishing El dorado canyon. It’s usually the first place I can go with dry flies in the year. The last two years in March I had great success in that creek on the surface. I know you probably know a million people already in Colorado but feel free to email me if you want a few stream suggestions. I focus on the small front range streams myself and can’t wait to try my new tenkarausa rod this spring in Boulder Canyon. I just cast it for the first time this weekend on the Big Thomson tailwater in Estes. Would not have been my first choice but it’s completely open water and plenty of casting room for a newbie. You could make a killing up there fishing sub-surface. I hope to see you on the stream this year and I will stop and say hello.


    • Hey Tim,
      It would be fun to fish together sometime. Work allowing I try to make last minute trips when I can. So, chances are I’ll see you on the streams.
      Also, if you post on our Facebook page ( when you’re going, I’ll always see if I can join.

  5. One unusual way in which I have caught several fish is to simply let the fly drag behind me in the water as I slowly move from one location to another within a large pool. Sometimes I have just been lazy and not lifted my rod out of the water and figured if he fly was in the water there might be a chance for a fish to see it. In one particular location it is not unusual for yellow perch and trout to follow anglers at a distance and pick off any food kicked up by moving anglers. Just another way to maybe catch some fish.

  6. GregM says:

    “I caught about 12 fish between 9:15 and 12 o’clock.”

    (In March, in a cold canyon, on a small stream)

    Welcome to Colorado!

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