Five Great Virginia Streams for Tenkara (part 4)

When I started Five Great Virginia Streams for Tenkara on March 5th I had hoped to get all five covered in a couple of weeks. Now here we are on May 4th and I am just getting to number 4, the Rapidan River. Sorry about that, but life and new job keep me away from this chronicle.

a typical pool

The Rapidan is probably my favorite brook trout water. I have spent more time and logged more miles on the water then any place else on earth. It truly is my home water.

The Rapidan, located in the Shenandoah National Park, is a high gradient mountain stream with a variety of riffles, pools, runs, and falls. You can drive right to the water but you will be on a dirt road of varying quality much of the way. It doesn’t require a 4×4, but a sports car is not recommended.

To reach the Rapidan take state route 29 to Madison. Head west on route 231 toward Banco. Bear right onto route 670 toward Criglersville and Syria. Go about 2 miles and turn left onto 649/Quaker Run Rd. Follow Quarker Run Rd. until it becomes a dirt road. Stay on the dirt road and you go up on over the ridge, crossing a fire road and head down into the Shenandoah National Park. You will bottom out at the Rapidan with a 4-5 car parking area on your left.

You can start fishing up or down from here and there are miles of water either way. If there are more than two cars, I would continue on the road until you find a pull off that suits you and start fishing.

If you continue on the road you will cross the first of two wooden bridges. There are 4-5 car parking areas near each bridge. When you cross the first bridge you will be entering the state’s Wildlife Management Area. You can camp in this area if you want.

President and Mrs Hoover's Rapidan Camp

President and Mrs Hoover’s Rapidan Camp

Continue past the second bridge you will pass an in-holding (not open to the public) and further along you will come to a locked gate. If you hike up the trail you will reach Rapidan Camp, President Hoover’s summer getaway. This is where the Mill Prong and the Laurel Prong form the headwaters of the Rapidan. The U.S. Park Service maintains an interpretive operation at Rapidan Camp. It is an easy ½ hour hike and worth the trip if only for the historic value of seeing a rustic presidential retreat.

A typical run

pocket water

If you have read the other posts then you already know what flies work in these mountain brook trout streams; a dry or dry-dropper rig either Adams or BWO parachutes. For nymphs try a Pheasant Tail, Gold Ribbed Hare’s ear or Copper John. A few Quill Gordons, March Browns and Sulfurs for mayfly imitations; little black stoneflies, yellow sallies and some tan and olive caddis round out the assortment. Of course if you want to go the full tenkara route then try an Oki or Ishigaki. Check with Mossy Creek Fly Fishing to get the latest on what’s working.

Because the Rapidan has more gradient it offers more complexity to the water. You can spend a lifetime fishing the Rapidan and will always find interesting water to fish. I have fished it in every month of the year and covered most of the water and still look forward to fishing it again.

Give the Rapidan a try and let me know what you think.


Photo courtesy of Marty Hayden

Five Great Virginia Stream for Tenkara (part 3)

So far we have looked at Ramsey’s Draft, in part 1 and Skidmore Fork, in part 2. The third and last river in the George Washington National Forest is the St. Mary’s River.

The St. Mary’s River.



The St. Mary’s River is located in the George Washington National Forest’s St Mary’s Wilderness area. It flows through a beautiful canyon like area in the mountains and is one of the more scenic fishing spots in the Old Dominion.

The St. Mary’s is near the town of Vesuvius. One way to get there is from I81/64 to exit 205. Take Route 606/Raphine Road to Route 56/Tye River Turnpike to 608/South Bottom Road-Cold Springs Road to St. Mary’s Road. There is a parking area at the end of the St. Mary’s Road.

Like Ramsey’s Draft you can start fishing very near the parking area. I prefer to hike in for a bit and start my serious fishing above Sugartree Branch.

St. Mary's Falls

St. Mary’s Falls

This section from Sugartree Branch to the falls is really a beautiful area and you will find yourself looking around as much as looking at the water. Like the previous rivers in this series it is a typical riffle-pool-run system. The area plenty of open area’s making casting very easy and enough tight spots to make it challenging.

Depending on the water conditions Sugartree Branch is worth looking into to. It is a reasonably steep gradient with a trail running along side. You can take this trail up and around a section of the river and come out at the falls. You will cross a couple of branch that lead down to the river but the going can be steep and tangled. Think first before you blindly head down. This section is deep in the wilderness area so plan accordingly.

As with the other streams, a dry or dry-dropper rig works well; either Adams or BWO parachutes. For nymphs try a Pheasant Tail, Gold Ribbed Hare’s ear or Copper John. A few Quill Gordons, March Browns and Sulfurs for mayfly imitations; little black stoneflies, yellow sallies and some tan and olive caddis round out the assortment. Of course if you want to go the full tenkara route then try an Oki or Ishigaki. Check with Mossy Creek Fly Fishing to get the latest on what’s working.

Above the falls

Above the falls

Fishing St. Mary’s is a commitment and will eat up a day very easily. The numbers and size of fish in the St. Mary’s are fewer and smaller than the other rivers; the scenic nature of the canyon however more than makes up for it. It is great hike and fish river, but you need to be sure you are up for it. Take some emergency gear, food and water with you. You may want to look at topo map to see what you are getting into.

If you go let me know what you think.

Five Great Virginia Stream for Tenkara (part 2)

In part 1, I wrote that I would be sharing some notes on five of my favorite tenkara streams. All are public water, three in the George Washington National Forest, and two in the Shenandoah National Park. This is the second stream in the series, Skidmore Fork

Skidmore Fork

Pool and run


Skidmore Fork is a tributary of Dry River that flows into and out of Switzer Lake. The section below the lake is the easiest to get to and fish so that is what I will focus on.

Skidmore Fork is easy to reach. From Harrisonburg, Va. take 33 west about 18 miles to a moderate sized parking area on your left. If you start-up the hill you went to far. Just as you enter the parking area you will see a gated road on your right. Park your car and follow that gated road around to the first ford on Skidmore Fork.

Brian Trow in stealth mode

Brian Trow in stealth mode

Skidmore is a soft gradient stream with the typical pools, riffles and runs. You can fish up from this first ford all the way to the base of Switzer Lake or down to where Skidmore meets Dry River. If you fish up, a logging road runs along the stream and makes access and egress very easy. The logging road crosses the stream four times before it gets to Switzer Lake.

Skidmore does not offer the wide open casting that you will find on Ramsey’s Draft or the Dry River but is still easily fished with an 11’ Iwana.

A long run

A long run

Here, like Ramsey’s draft, a dry or dry-dropper rig works well; either Adams or BWO parachutes. For nymphs try a Pheasant Tail, Gold Ribbed Hare’s ear or Copper John. A few Quill Gordons, March Browns and Sulfurs for mayfly imitations; little black stoneflies, yellow sallies and some tan and olive caddis round out the assortment. Of course if you want to go the full tenkara route then try an Oki or Ishigaki. Check with Mossy Creek Fly Fishing to get the latest on what’s working.

Daniel lands a brookie on an Ito

Daniel gets his tamo wet!

Skidmore can easily occupy a full day of fishing, offering plenty of variety to keep you entertained the entire time. By the way, on your way to Skidmore you will be driving along the Dry River, which is also an excellent brook trout stream. No one would blame you if you yielded to temptation and stopped at the many pull-offs along the way to give the Dry a try.

If you go let me know what you think.

Five Great Virginia Streams for Tenkara (part 1)

The 2013 Tenkara Summit will be in Harrisonburg, Va. on May 11 and 12, hosted by Tenkara USA and Mossy Creek Fly Fishing. I am excited to be part of the team planning and hosting the summit and because many folks are not familiar with the bounty of brook trout fishing here in the Valley I thought I would share some notes on five of my favorites. All are public water, three in the George Washington National Forest, and two in the Shenandoah National Park. My five favorites are:
Ramsey’s Draft
Skidmore Fork
St. Mary’s River
Rapidan River
North Fork of the Moorman’s
I will start with Ramsey’s and over the next couple of weeks I’ll write about the others.

Ramsey’s Draft

pocket water

pocket water

You will find Ramsey’s Draft 4.5 miles west of West Augusta, Va. on route 250. Look for Mountain House Day Use Area on your right as you are headed west. There is plenty of parking in two areas; the paved lot with picnic tables and a smaller unpaved lot across the low water bridge.


moving to a pool

Once you are geared up you can fish up or down stream from the parking areas. Most of the water is above the parking areas but a trip downstream is worth the time. If you want to hike in a bit you will find an easy trail that heads upstream from the parking area and runs along and crosses the stream a few times. It is very easy to move along and fish where it suits you. Ramsey’s is a pool-run-riffle stream and for the most part gives you lot’s of casting room. It is a low gradient stream so you will not be scrambling over boulders or falls.

Here is an interesting story about Ramsey’s. Colby and Brian Trow, the owners of Mossy Creek Fly Fishing, took Tom Rosenbauer of Orvis here. Colby fished his tenkara rod in pools that Tom had just fished and caught fish left and right. It was then that Tom decided he needed to give tenkara a try and spent the afternoon fishing tenkara on Ramsey’s.


a small run

I generally fish a dry or dry-dropper rig; either Adams or BWO parachutes. For nymphs I will use a Pheasant Tail or Gold Ribbed Hare’s ear. You might want a few Quill Gordons, March Browns and Sulfurs for mayfly imitations. Little black stoneflies, yellow sallies and some tan and olive caddis round out the assortment. Of course if you want to go the full tenkara route then try an Oki or Ishigaki. Check with Mossy Creek Fly Fishing to get the latest on what’s working.


Pool and run

Fishing Ramsey’s is not hard but you want to plan your route in each section. The water is shallow and you can easily spook fish if you are not careful. Wade carefully and look ahead for the next good spot. The runs can be surprisingly good especially if you take the time to study the water and pick out the small pockets and holding water. The pools are spaced out so you have lots of water between them to drop a fly into. Ramsey’s rewards patience and a stealthy approach. If you think it might hold a fish it is a good idea to check, you will be surprised how often you are right.



If you fish Ramsey’s let me know what you think!

Tenkara Summit Info

The 2013 Tenkara Summit will be in Harrisonburg, Va. on May 11 and 12, hosted by Tenkara USA and Mossy Creek Fly Fishing.
The plans are coming together and the details are starting to shape up.
Here is some early information you can use for your planning.


Open online at:
Follow the directions carefully to be sure your registration is complete and accurate.

DAY 1 – May 11, 2013

$25 for event and lunch
Location: Holiday Inn Harrisonburg – 1400 East Market Street, Harrisonburg.
 9AM – 5PM: Main event – presentations, casting, tying demos and more.
6PM – 10PM: Tenkara Social with band at the hotel.

DAY 2 – May 12, 2013

$75 for lunch and guided afternoon clinics.
Location: Riven Rock Park, 6 Last Left Lane, Hinton, VA.
Schedule: 10AM – 12PM: more demos outside at the park (no charge, included in Day 1 fee)
12 PM on: Lunch and guided clinics.
Riven Rock Park information


There is a block of rooms available at the Holiday Inn. You will want to stay there if you are from out of town so you can enjoy the tenkara party that evening.
Room rates have been negotiated for $89.
To book a room please call 540-433-2521 and tell operator you’d like to book rooms under “Tenkara Summit 2013″ room block.
Or visit the Holiday Inn website, enter dates, and group code TSB.
Please note the last day for reservations under the room block is Friday, April 26th, 2013.
Camping options will be posted on the Mossy Creek Fly Fishing website soon.

I will post updates as they become available, so please check back.
Hope to see you at the summit!

New Tenkara Book Coming!

Tenkara COVER_HRmedDavid Dirks is a outdoor writer and columnist for The Times Herald Record in Westton, NY. He is working on a book using the insights of actual tenkara anglers here in the US. When I got a note from David asking if I would be willing to share my experiences on tenkara fishing, I was quick to say yes.

Now David’s book has been sent off to the editor and he sent a copy of the cover and the table of contents so I could give you a sneak peek.

Tenkara Fly Fishing Insights and Strategies

1. Ancient Tenkara: A Short History
Short history of tenkara fly fishing
2. The Essence of Tenkara Fly Fishing
3. Tenkara Fly Rods
Selecting Tenkara Rods
4. Tenkara Lines & Tippets
5. Casting techniques for Tenkara
6. Tenkara Flies: Traditional Flair with Practical Applications
Insights for fishing traditional tenkara fly patterns
Match-the-hatch versus traditional tenkara one fly
Tenkara Advantage: The art & science of manipulating the fly
Other fly pattern applications for tenkara (traditional American dry flies, nymphs, streamers and bucktails)
7. Tenkara Fly Patterns: Traditional meets Non-Traditional
8. Fishing with Tenkara (Note: focuses on how to fish each of the following types of water effectively using tenkara equipment)
Pocket water
9. Tenkara Fishing Strategies for Small Water
10. Tenkara Strategies For Larger Water
11 . Tenkara Strategies for Fighting Fish
12. About Our Tenkara Contributors

This will be a great book for all tenkara fans and those wanting to learn about tenkara. It is expected to be available by the end of March and will be both in print and ebook.

You Say Tenkara I Say Kleenex

The ever-attentive Mr. Klass of Tenkara Talk fame offered an interesting twitter observation:Screen Shot 2013-02-01 at 5.56.57 PM

For those just tuning in, there has been a bit of a culture war within the tenkara ranks for a while. Apparently it stems from what is and what is not tenkara. The discussion has taken a variety of forms from rods, to flies, to lines. It raised it’s ugly head again apparently (although I missed why).

Personally I think it is a bunch of hooey. Tenkara isn’t trademarked, and the translation in Japanese isn’t even precise. At this point Tenkara is like Kleenex. How many of us say “bathroom tissue?” You almost feel compelled to lock your jaw and extend your pinky if you do…

So to squabble over what is and is not tenkara seems pointless, unless there is some other game afoot. Probably not an unfounded suspicion truth be told.  It reminds me of the old guard of fly-fishing who didn’t want women fishing and looked down their collective noses if you didn’t just fish a dry fly upstream. There goal was to exclude others. Is that what you want? In any event it is unseemly and looks silly to folks just discovering tenkara.

Jason is correct tenkara is fixed line fly-fishing. Just like using a cane pole, bobber and a worm is fixed line fishing. The obvious difference is one uses a fly and the other does not. That is all you need to say when that subject comes up.

If what I do is not what you call tenkara, so be it. Call it fixed line fly-fishing if it makes you happy. It is still fly-fishing and it is still fun and to me that is the whole point of being out there.

The Tenkara Roundup Vol. 1, Issue 3

The jungle drums are beating, With the tales from late last night, Cause stories bear repeating, For everyones delight. – from Jimmy Buffett’s Coconut Telegraph

Well the virtual coconut telegraph is certainly filled with tenkara tales and as the man says, “stories bear repeating…
2013SummitposterHere is what caught my eye recently:

  • The best news first! Mark your calendars! The 3rd Tenkara Summit will be in Harrisonburg, Va., May  11-12, 2013. Mossy Creek Fly Fishing will be co-sponsoring the event and everyone in the shop is excited about the chance to show off the great tenkara fishing opportunities here in the Shenandoah Valley! Day 1 will feature indoor clinics and presentations and a chance to socialize. In the morning on Day 2 there will be free outdoor demonstrations on a local river. There is a $25 registration fee for the event. Guided clinics with lunch the afternoon of Day 2 is available for a $75.
  • Those of you who have started to accumulate tenkara rods will be interested in this one. Troutrageous! has a great post on a DIY rod rack project that is tenkara worthy because it a) simple and b) customizable. Check out Tenkara Rod Rack on the Cheap.  Jason over at Tenkara Talk made one, check it out. You can bet that the Tenkara Guide will have one in the near future.
  • Don’t have enough rods? Need to know which rod works best for the type of fishing you do? Then check out  How to Choose the Right Tenkara Rod from the Tenkara USA Blog. Remember you can order Tenkara USA rods from Mossy Creek Fly Fishing and there is no charge for shipping.
  • Winter is a slow fishing season around here. We get out, but is not the hectic pace of the other seasons. For me it is R & R time; reorganize and repair. He is a great post on cleaning those tenkara rods before they sit out the season in your new rack. Check out Winter Maintenance of my Tenkara Gear.
  • Tenkara Talk  hits the nail on the head when it comes to tactics in his recent post on tenkara tactics, Be a Heron! Jason notes, “One of the things tenkara anglers place a lot of emphasis on is the idea that skill matters more than gear. As Dr. Ishigaki says, “you can’t buy skill in a fly shop”. And to me, concentration is just another skill we need to hone if we want to be masterful tenkara anglers (or any type of angler for that matter).”

Couple of non tenkara items but worth your time and attention…

  • The always worth reading Erin Block has a book out, The View from Coal Creek. No it is not a tenkara book, but if you are into bamboo rods and great writing then you need to get a copy.  As the Whitefish Press noted;“The View from Coal Creek is a reflection on fly rods, fishing, and life seen from the vantage of a canyon in Colorado, but these are props in a larger story about life, love, and tradition. Erin Block is a young, powerful voice carrying the torch and passing on lessons, values, and history of this great, literary and vibrant sport.”
  • American Angler released an iPad App. I gave up all but a very few magazines subscriptions and was thrilled that American Angler made the jump to iPad. See The iPad App is Live in iTunes!  “We built this in house,” explains Morris Sporting Group general manager Steve Walburn, “so we started with the most recently available print edition, which at the time was the September/October issue. As soon as we catch up to our print schedule, we’ll begin offering subscriptions.”Among other rich-media elements, the first issue includes a classic audio recording of Norman Maclean, at age 82, reading selected passages from A River Runs Through It, digitized exclusively for American Angler iPad readers. “It’s just one example of how we can stretch the boundaries of content in this new medium,” says Walburn. The next available issue will be January/February 2013.

Fly Board at L.L.Bean

Chuck Willey the Shooting – Fishing – Archery Program Supervisor for L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools has been putting together a compilation of flies mounted in a shadow box and displayed in the main room at the Fogg House in Maine as part of our Outdoor Discovery Schools heritage.

Chuck asked past instructors of the L.L.Bean Fly Fishing Schools for a fly that is either a favorite or one that speaks to our personality. This will be a great display and I was delighted to contribute a fly. Recently Chuck sent an update that included a photo and a listing of who has sent flies in so far. [Read more…]

Single Fly Tenkara

A question recently posted in the Tenkara Anglers facebook group asked about the single fly tenkara technique. The author of the post was looking for advice, reassurance and information about the technique, especially around selective trout and it got me thinking about my own views of the single fly aspect of tenkara.

one fly to rule them all

I admit to a pretty strong addition to catching fish on the surface. So I have been both skeptical and practical when it comes to the single fly technique. Fishing dry flies with a tenkara rod was so effective and fun that I was hard pressed to try something different. In fact if I can’t entice a fish to take a dry or dry/dropper, I usually just call it a day, scout out the water or go for a hike.

When Daniel Galhardo, founder and owner of Tenkara USA was in town I had the chance to fish the single fly method with him. After three days with increasing success I can say with confidence that it works. As a guide who specializes in the tenkara method it was especially rewarding to get first-hand coaching on tenkara fishing.

In the course of three days we had a lot of time to talk about our evolution as tenkara anglers. We shared similar paths to where we are as tenkara anglers today. So when I read Daniel’s response to the facebook question, I was struck by what a well worded insight into the single fly technique it was.

“Main thing to keep in mind is that you should know (or maybe believe) that it can be about technique as opposed to the fly choice. I have been in a few rivers where people told me I had to match the hatch at particular times, but I have also been stubborn in my pursuit of catching fish without paying much attention to the fly and have done well (and have started doing progressively better as I have gained confidence).

I have come to believe I can fish anywhere, including highly pressured waters, without paying attention to my fly. It is refreshing and liberating (this is my favorite part of it). Now, it is possible that I could have caught more fish if I had changed flies…will never know.

I think it mainly comes down to one thing: what do you want most? To think about the flies you’re using and trying to possibly catch more fish? Or, to have the freedom to not catch as many fish now, instead just keep casting that one fly to the water, and perhaps in a year, or two, or ten, feel that you have mastered techniques that allow you to fish one fly effectively?

There is NO right or wrong here. Absolutely not. It is all about what you desire. I really enjoy not having to think about my fly, and I now feel liberated to fly anywhere in the country and fish with my one box of flies. I like that.”

I won’t be abandoning my dry flies for just sakasa kebari, but I will be trying the single fly technique more often.