Many of us don’t have mountain streams nearby but may have lakes and ponds easily accessible.
In this episode Daniel talks about his strategies, equipment and techniques for fishing with a tenkara rod, line and fly in lakes and ponds for trout, panfish and bass.
Daniel Galhardo: This is Daniel Galhardo and you’re listening to the Tenkara Cast, the podcast about the simple Japanese method of fly-fishing, tenkara. In the Tenkara Cast, we’ll be sharing information on techniques, history, philosophy and tenkara stories from anglers all over the world. This podcast is brought to you by Tenkara USA, introducing tenkara outside of Japan since 2009. It’s only possible we create content such as this podcast and videos because of your support, so we thank you so very much for purchasing Tenkara USA rods, lines and flies. I hope you enjoy learning more about the simple method of fly-fishing.
Hey everyone, today is December 17th, 2015 and I’m recording the 25th episode of the Tenkara Cast. We’ve been very consistent at releasing one episode every week. In a couple of cases, more than one episode actually in a week just early on. And part of that is because we really wanna make sure that we can educate you on as many aspects of tenkara as we can. And it’s been really fun to put these together, kind of have a theme, have a topic and covering those topics.
Usually, you’ve noticed, it’s kind of me rambling. And the idea, the vision that I’ve had for this podcast is to bring more people in, make it a little bit more story-focused. We’re having different people’s participation in the podcast. But for the first several episodes, I wanted to… I did that a few times in a couple of interviews, but for the most part I wanted to get some topics covered. And that’s also part of the reason I did not number the episodes, like a lot of podcasts do because it’s not really very relevant what episode number it is. Most of the first episodes have been just kind of foundational pieces and the titles reflect that.
Today, I’m gonna be talking about fishing in still water, fishing in lakes. And from now on, we’re getting into the holidays here, I’m gonna be doing this as a biweekly. So every two weeks, I’m gonna be releasing a new episode as opposed to every week. That will give me a little bit more time to work on some episodes, getting a little bit more, a few people kind of participating, getting a little bit more of the stuff that I wanted to do. Plus, we’re gonna have a couple of trade shows ahead of us and I have a fair amount of traveling to do. So I don’t wanna over promise here. I don’t wanna promise one every week, like I have been doing. And I’m gonna switch the podcast to a biweekly thing. Hopefully, that’s okay with you. Hopefully, you won’t miss us too much. If you do, let me know. [chuckle] If you really kinda need that episode every week, just drop me a line.
But since you’re listening to this podcast and you might be missing having one every week, I’d highly recommend looking up a couple of other podcasts that I personally enjoy listening to. There is April Vokey’s Anchored, she’s got a good podcast with some terrific interviews. Of course, Tom Rosenbauer from Orvis, has a very consistent podcast, very well done. I have been honored to be part of that podcast a couple of different times. And highly recommend you subscribe to the Orvis podcast with Tom Rosenbauer. Another one that I listen to is Rob Snowhite’s The Fly Fishing Consultant. I think that’s a good one. And one of the other ones that are not really fishing related, but I really enjoy listening to ’cause it’s the kind of storytelling that I aspire to do is… What is it? [chuckle] Nevermind, maybe I’ll… Oh, The Dirtbag Diaries. [chuckle] Sorry. Just had a little bit of a brain fart here. But The Dirtbag Diaries is a fun podcast with different stories about the outdoors. A lot of it is climbing related. But yeah, listen to Tom Rosenbauer’s, April Vokey’s, and Rob Snowhite’s podcasts when you’re missing the Tenkara Cast.
This is like most of the episodes that I’ve done so far. It’s a little bit of a foundational basics kind of piece and I do intend to build on these a little bit more as we go on with more specific techniques or things that I probably forgot to make mention of. And there’s been a few of those already. I was listening to the episode on Wading Safety, which I released last week. And I realized it’s like, “Duh, I didn’t even talk about a couple of the risks that people have.” For example, on a couple of things I do like to carry with me while wading. For example, I neglected to mention that one of the real risks that we face in wading in certain rivers is getting our feet stuck in between rocks. A rock might roll over your foot and you get stuck.
As a matter of fact, a few years ago, I was fishing in one of the streams outside of Salt Lake City in Utah, and the day after… I was fishing by myself, and the day after or two days later, there was a newspaper headline about somebody who was fishing the very same stream, probably just another mile or two upstream and his foot got stuck in between rocks. He was not particularly close to any camp sites or anything like that, and he was stuck overnight. The water was actually pretty cold, I had been fishing and I would have to get out of the water ’cause it was cold in the evening. And he stayed there overnight. The next day he was yelling, somebody overheard him. But one of the things that I’ve taken from that experience of… It could have been myself, completely being in that situation. Just carry a whistle. That’s one of the things, ’cause in the article, the newspaper article talked about how he couldn’t really be heard. It’s really hard to yell any louder than a stream, for example. So on the Wading Safety episode, I should have talked about that experience as well, and carrying a whistle is always a good idea. And there’s a bunch of little things, I’ve been taking notes, of things that I wish I had talked about in previous episodes.
In any case, when it comes to lakes, I’ll talk a little bit about how I fish lakes, my approaches, and I’m sure later on, based on your commentary as well as things that I realized I missed, I will be talking about fishing still water again.
I am not a huge lake fisherman, I do love fishing streams and rivers primarily. So I’ll get that out there, but I do fish lakes as well. I fish lakes and ponds on a somewhat regular basis primarily when spring time comes here in Colorado because we have a big run-off season, the rivers swell up and get too full and that makes fishing pretty difficult. We can fish here year-round, but a lot of the streams and rivers here get blown out through the spring, depending on how our snowpack is. And to get my fishing fix, I’ll go fishing lakes. But even throughout the year, sometimes I wanna take a friend out for a quick outing, sometimes even just my wife and I wanna go for a little hike or a little walk near home, and we just might take a pole and fish one of the ponds. We have a few ponds close to our home, there’s two that are actually pretty much walking distance from our house and we will fish those for bluegill, bass. Actually, we don’t really have bluegill but we have crappie and we have sunfish and bass in those lakes, and occasionally we’ll see the the carp as well in those, although I haven’t caught that, the carp in those lakes.
And also the other experience that I do have with fishing lakes on a somewhat regular basis are Alpine lakes. If we are going on a hike in Alpine country, like Rocky Mountain National Park, usually I like to follow streams and I always tend to prefer fishing streams but sometimes it’s nice just to hike up to a lake and have a rod along and I’ll definitely fish, especially when I see fish, I get excited and I’ll fish. So my forte, my strong experience is primarily rivers and streams. That’s probably why I’ve been attracted to tenkara to begin with ’cause there’s no other tool in my experience, to fish a stream like a tenkara rod. But lakes, a tenkara rod line of fly works perfectly well in lakes as well.
So the first thing I wanna talk about is just the approach to lakes. There’s several different ways we can look at a lake and decide to approach it. For one, we can come to a lake and be like, “Oh, this lake is 300 feet wide, and I cannot cast to the other side, so I cannot fish with tenkara.” [chuckle] It’s like one of those things, a lot of people think, “Oh, you don’t have reach with a tenkara rod, so you probably can’t fish lakes very effectively.” And that’s because they’re thinking of reaching the other side of a lake and that’s not a good approach, it’s my experience. If that’s how you think, then yeah, tenkara rod is not gonna be ideal for fishing in a lake. So first of all, we have to realize that there’s a lot of fish nearby when you’re fishing lakes. They’re not… Even though you might not be able to see them readily, they are pretty close to us a lot of times. And there’s two main approaches to fishing a lake with a tenkara rod in my opinion. We can choose to walk around a lake and go try to find fish or try to find fishing, likely fishy spots, or we can kinda hang in one area of the lake and realize the fish are actually cruising a lot and they might find us instead. Both of those can work in a variety of situations.
There’s actually a cool thread in our forum, tenkarausa.com/forum, where I believe it was Matt Donovan, who lives in Nevada and he fishes lakes a fair amount. And a few years ago, he recounted being in a competition. I forgot if it was a specific like one-fly thing, or whatnot, but it was a fly-fishing competition in the lake. And Matt had been doing tenkara for a little while, and he went there with his tenkara rod. This is fairly early on, since we introduced tenkara here. But Matt’s approach was, as he described, was to stay in the shoreline and covering about a 100 feet or so of the lake, or maybe it was less maybe, or maybe he said a 100 yards, but covering this really short section of the shore, kinda walking from one side to the other.
As the competition started, everybody just spread out and almost every single person had flow tubes on them, and they were going into the lake to catch those fish that were 300 feet away or more. And they went in there, and Matt’s approach was just staying right there in his little section of the stream and wait for the fish that were cruising by to come in. And I believe, I might be wrong, but I know Matt did really, really well in the competition, and I believe he actually won first place. Don’t quote me on that, I don’t have the thread in front of me, but he did really, really well, better than the majority of people. So he took that approach of letting the fish come and find him, as opposed to him spending all his energy to go find fish.
I think that works really, really well. When you get to a certain area of a lake, on a shore, that looks comfortable for you to hang out, first of all when you get there and you’re not doing a whole lot of moving around, it lets the fish settle to the fact that you’re there, and maybe kind of forget you a little bit. So they start coming out of the depths and becoming a little bit more eager to eat flies. As opposed to if you just keep moving a lot of times, if you’re walking in a lake, especially if you walk a little faster or stomp a little harder on the ground, the fish will go down, and it might be a few minutes before they come back out and they start eating again. So if you stay in one area and move very lightly and move very little, I think there’s a really good chance of fish coming and eating your fly. The draw back on that one is, first of all you have to find a really good section of lake. Sometimes if you come to a section that is really really shallow, maybe it’s not really all that convenient for fish to hang out there. It depends a lot on the lake and the weather, of course. But you first have to identify the one area where you think that there’s a likelihood that there’s gonna be a lot of fish hanging nearby.
The other approach to fishing lakes from the shore is to circumvent, kinda go around the periphery of a lake and either try to spot fish, do some site fishing, or look for structures and things in the lake, and the lake bed maybe kind of drops off, or maybe there is a tree that is submerged, look for the structures where the fish are, and then casting into those. And I’ll talk a little bit more about techniques in a minute. The third approach… I mentioned those two main approaches which are fishing from the shore, which is how I pretty much always fish lakes. But the third approach is to be in the water. Get on a float tube, a little boat or a stand-up paddle board and go into the lake and then you can do pretty much the same thing. You can either keep paddling around until you find fish, which is usually not a very good technique in my opinion, or let the wind take you and drift a little bit into the lake, or just hang out and keep casting in a certain area.
I think… I don’t know enough, I don’t fish enough lakes to know really if one approach is always better than the other. I don’t have a super strong preference. If my wife and I are going to a lake near home, usually what I do is I just keep walking around the lake, and I’ll fish. We’ll stop a little bit, fish five, six, seven casts in one area, walk a little bit farther so that we don’t get tired and bored of being in the one exact area. If we’re going to like an Alpine lake and I’m tired from a hike, I might stay put, close to where we are having a picnic or something, but sometimes I think that the other side of the lake looks really good and I’ll go walk around and as I walk, I might try fishing in a few different spots. So bottom line here is, there is in my opinion, no right or wrong approach. If you find an area that looks really really good, you can stay with that and keep trying that area. And of course if you’re catching fish, keep trying that area and the area nearby ’cause there’s a lot of fish, of course.
Now, I think there’s differences as well based on the fish that we’re going after. Bluegill, bass, trout, they all behave a little bit differently, but not by much. In my experience, the fish, they tend to be guarding their territory a little bit, some of them, and they’ll be kind of aggressive trying to eat as much as they can. Sometimes they’ll be cruising around trying to find a good area, trying to find food. I think that all depends a little bit on the conditions, like the weather, the temperatures, the fish themselves. Sometimes I will notice that one trout might be kind of cruising and going a fairly long distance. Sometimes I’ll see a trout that is just kinda hanging in one spot, and I might adapt my approach a little bit to either one.
If I see a couple of trout cruising a long ways, I know that the fish are cruising and trying to find food, so I can feel a little bit more comfortable staying in one area. Other times, I’d be out fishing in the ponds here for bass, and a lot of bass tend to be very territorial. So I find it best and most effective for me to be walking around very quietly and very slowly, trying to find those beds where the bass are kind of protecting their territory. Other times of the year, the bass might be kinda moving around a little bit more. So it varies a little bit. I don’t have a silver bullet or one answer for you. I just wanted to share that it varies a little bit based on what I wanna do, based on what I see the fish doing and just based on how I feel that day.
Now, in terms of technique and flies. So let’s talk flies for a second. When it comes to flies, we can take a couple of different approaches. We can do that kind of tenkara approach that I’ve been talking about for years, of using pretty much one fly or more accurately, just not paying a huge amount of attention to the fly. That approach, we talk about in terms of flies is the idea that the fly doesn’t matter as much as a lot of people think. Fish are trying to maximize the food intake that they have and they’re trying to maximize their opportunities to eat. Rather than being very meticulous about the flies that they’re gonna eat, they might act and try to take something that appeals to them based on movement, based on the fact that it looks like food, and so forth. So that’s one approach.
The other approach is to use flies that people like to recommend, perhaps imitative flies or flies that maybe look a little bit different from tenkara flies that might have some kind of triggers in lakes. I do both. So when it comes to mountain streams and rivers, I’m very much a one fly kinda guy. When it comes to lakes, I have found myself that I just, either because I don’t have so much confidence ’cause I don’t fish ’em quite as much, but also based on my previous experience before I got into tenkara where I fish lakes and I saw a few flies that seemed to work really well. So, I take both approaches. Sometimes I would just go with my regular kit and catch plenty of fish on the one-fly approach with tenkara. Sometimes, I will actually go through my old fishing gear and take a wooly bugger or take some kind of longer, especially longer flies, a little bit bigger flies and heavier. And those kinds of flies, especially the wooly bugger-looking kind of flies, to me they’re considerably different from a tenkara fly, enough to the point where it warrants me using them.
So a tenkara fly has this kind of relatively low profile, even a larger fly, and I’m talking about the reverse hackle fly specifically. And it might imitate a lot of different insects, Mayfly nymphs, it might imitate caddises but it doesn’t really do a good job at suggesting a leech or suggesting some kind of maybe a small fish or some kind of life, like worms even that would… It might be found on the lake, in places that are slower moving water. So I find that having those flies at my disposal is a good tool to have in my arsenal. Now either one works fine, in my opinion. And mostly I might change my techniques a little bit, but mostly I use the leech kind of patterns like the wooly buggers when I want something really big that’s really gonna entice that aggressive bass. And primarily I’m using those flies if I’m going after bass. Trout, I feel like I can get away with one fly a little bit more.
Now, in terms of techniques. And that’s where I kind of… I think that every fly is gonna be different and there’s a lot of room for us to do different things, but my approach here is like, okay, let’s say, I find a piece of water and I’m casting. First of all, maybe I should talk, instead about techniques, first let me talk about my equipment ’cause I started talking about flies. Sorry about that. [chuckle] I do have my notes here, and I realized, I think it’s probably better that I cover the equipment that I’m using. My equipment in lakes is pretty similar to medium-sized streams. I’m using a 12 to 13-foot rod. Actually, for the most part, I’m using the Ito, which is a 13-foot or 14-feet, 7-inch rod just to get a little extra reach out there. And primarily, I’m probably using it at 13 feet, which is a little bit more comfortable. At the end of the rod, I’m tying line that is not that much longer than the rod. Usually, I’m using about a 15-foot line, level line, and four to five feet of tippet, 5X tippet, at the end of that.
And I think it’s important to mention that because sometimes we tend to think that we have to have this super long lines to fish in lakes, and that’s not really the case. You can reach a lot of water by having this 13-foot rod, 15 or so feet of line, maybe an extra two feet if you want, and then four to five feet of tippet. Occasionally, I’ll have 17 feet of line, four feet of tippet. So I don’t have a formula, but I tend to stay away from very long lines when I’m fishing in lakes. I think I usually go up to 17 feet of line plus four or five feet of tippet. And the reason for that is because there’s plenty of fish close by, but also in lakes, if you’re fishing from the shore, a lot of lakes might have a lot of vegetation around and trees, like if you’re fishing Alpine lakes. And I find myself dealing with more line tangles and things getting caught than I wish. So I tend to stay a little bit shorter than you might think is appropriate for lakes. I don’t think you need to fish super long lines, but hey, it’s like the episode where I talk about long lines a couple of weeks ago, you can experiment. You can start adding two to three feet of line at a time and see how it feels to do that.
Okay, now that I talked about the equipment, in a brief intro to flies, let me talk a little bit about technique. So technique, there’s a few different ways to present a fly in a lake. The one thing we don’t have in the lake is currents taking the flies to different places and doing the natural drift of a fly, as we might see. And there’s two main techniques that I like to use depending on where I’m going for. So let me talk about fishing ponds for bass and bluegill first of all, and it’s very applicable to trout as well. But when I feel like the fish are a little bit more active, one of the techniques that I like to do is to cast, get as much reach as I can, and then just slowly drag the fly towards the shore or to the sides, and just as if an insect kinda fell in the water and started swimming to the shore. First, I usually… I think I like to cast and then just slowly move the fly in a very steady pace and start dragging it to the shore. Sometimes you’ll get a bite, it’s a really fun aggressive take when you’re doing that. Sometimes I will just do this more pulsating movement towards the shore, kinda like more jigging, just small little pulls until it gets closer to shore, and then I’ll cast again.
So the first presentation that I use in lakes is to have a lot of movement. And that typically acts… Works really well for when the fish are very aggressive. Like bluegill in the summer, for example, or bass, they can get very, very aggressive, and they’re very predatorial, so they need to see this thing with movement before they get really interested. But then after that, it’s a little bit of a variation of different movements and seeing how fish behave. And I experiment a lot when I’m fishing in the beginning of the day. So I might do a very slowly, steady movement to the shore. I might cast again and do it very fast. Let’s say, I’m casting 30 feet out and I’ll get from 30 feet to about 10 feet from me, or blast in about two or three seconds. So a very fast movement.
The other thing is you can cast, let the fly sink. So cast and just wait. Let the fly sink to a certain water column and then pull it to the shore. Or cast, let it sink and then just jig it towards the shore, like a streamer. That’s one technique that I find works really well for bluegill, bass, trout as well. Especially brook trout. I’ve had a lot of fun fishing Alpine lakes with a lot of brook trout during the summer, especially. Just casting and quickly dragging. And if you’re dragging on the surface, sometimes you see the fish jumping and doing this pirouette, just flips as they try to attack this escaping fly. So bottom line here is that there’s a lot of experimentation that you can do with your fly just by giving ’em movement that way.
The second technique is a little bit more of a passive technique. Typically more winter months where fish are a little bit slower, maybe there’s a colder front that came in. And the more passive technique is essentially I cast, and whether I’m using weighted flies or unweighted, I’ll let the fly sink. And usually it’s good to get an idea how fast the fly is sinking before you cast in case you cannot see the fly sinking. So put it in front of you and see how… What kind of pace it takes, how much time it takes to get to the bottom where you can see it. And then you can get an idea how long it’s gonna take to get to the bottom, at the end of your reach. But this second approach is a more passive approach of casting and waiting. Letting the fly sink as far as you’ll get or until whatever water column seems to make sense to you. And usually in my experience, it’s five to as long as 30 seconds or even a minute, if it’s a very deep clear lake. And as the fly sinks, I’ve had a few takes as the fly is sinking, definitely. Mostly what I’ve seen though is, as a fly sinks, and the water settles, there’s no… Nothing… No disturbance to the water. As the fly starts sinking, I’ve seen a lot of fish coming in and checking it out. Sometimes they’ll circle around the fly. But in any case, the fly is sinking and they come and check it out.
But then there’s something that you gotta do to trigger that fish. And what I love to do, it’s one of my favorite things to do I think, when I can see the fly especially, I let the fly sink either close to the bottom or until I see a fish coming close by and twitch it. Just two little short pulls just to make the fly indicate that it’s alive. And then the fish very often get triggered by the motion and they’ll take it. And that works beautifully for bluegill, bass and trout. Any kind of fish. I haven’t tried that for carp yet, but I suspect it could work well. Although carp, I think they usually like to go over something that’s not really moving, in my experience. That approach also works really well in streams. When you find a calmer pool of water and you’re able to let your fly sink and then just kinda twitch it little bit to indicate that it’s alive, that very often will trigger fish. And I’m actually working on a book that should come out hopefully in the spring and I have an episode, or I have a chapter talking about that experience. I’ll save that story for the book, so I have something to share with you.
But in any case, so those are my approaches to fishing lakes. I’d love to know what you… Especially if you do more lake fishing than I do. What do you do for successfully fishing lakes? I find that that works fine at a… Kinda like with my stream fishing, I don’t usually carry, I actually really don’t carry split shot or indicators when I’m lake fishing. I like to keep the line tight so I can see if there’s a take or see through the water if I can. I will carry, occasionally, heavier flies just to kinda sink a little bit faster. Again, my line is usually not that much longer than the rod, usually about two to four or five feet longer at the most, plus four feet of tippet at the end of that.
Longer rods, always better in a lake, in my experience. And my approach is, sometimes I’ll walk around and sometimes I’ll stay put. And that typically is more of what I wanna do, but sometimes it’s also based on what I’m seeing the fish doing, if they’re cruising more than staying put. And then in techniques, sometimes I’ll play around a lot in the very beginning of the day, but sometimes more active presentations, where I’m kind of pulling the fly, giving it action, pulling on the surface, pulling a little bit deeper in the water column. Sometimes a little bit more of a passive presentation where I let the fly sink a fair amount and then I just indicate that the fly is alive and see if a fish takes.
So those are my tips. Those are my techniques for fishing in lakes. If you have some suggestions, do share with us, tenkarausa.com/podcast. And I think the next episode is gonna be in a couple of weeks from now. So right at around Christmas time, we’ll try to get something out. Actually, probably right after Christmas. I’m gonna try to continue putting the episodes out on Wednesdays or Thursdays, mostly Thursdays. And I’m looking at my calendar, the next episode might come out right at New Year’s. Probably on the 30th or 31st. I’ll try to make that happen. If I miss that one, it’s gonna be coming out on the 7th of January and… Oh, just a note, if you are in the Colorado region, January 8th through 10th, I’m looking at my calendar, 8th through 10th we have the Fly Fishing Show taking place in Denver, and that’s always a really fun show. This year, we’re also supporting the Women’s Showcase in the Fly Fishing Show. That should be really fun. I’ll have a couple of presentations happening, a couple of demonstrations. So join us for that. And after that, on the 29th through the 31st of January, we’re gonna be in Somerset, New Jersey at a Fly Fishing Show.
Alright everyone, hopefully you enjoy a terrific holiday season. If you don’t hear my voice before then have a terrific Christmas. Happy Holidays to everyone, and hopefully, you get out to go fishing, as well, during the holidays. Hopefully it’s not too cold for you.
Thank you very much for listening to the Tenkara Cast. I’d like to extend a special thank you to Nick Ogawa, also known as Takénobu. Check out his music at takenobumusic.com. We’ll be posting links to any references we made in this podcast, such as Takénobu’s music, on our website, www.tenkarausa.com/podcast. And until next time on the Tenkara Cast.