Ninja Fishing With Wife


I'd imagine most manly anglers rolled their eyes when they first heard the "Zen of fly fishing" talk about tenkara, the minimalist form of Japanese fly fishing that uses only rod, line and a single fly. If piling a pickup with tons of gear and spending half an hour getting suited up to go fishing is your idea of macho, then yes, tenkara is pretty wimpy.


But since I got my tenkara outfit, I've followed a different path, one that I call "ninja fly fishing" after the stealthy Japanese spies of the samurai period. And by stealthy, I don't mean sneaking up on fish. I mean sneaking some fishing into an afternoon walk in the woods with my wife. Or as a ninja fly fishing master might say: "Tenkara: the way of going fishing, and yet, appearing not to go fishing."


I'm no master yet, but I was able to practice the art on a weekend hike with my wife this spring. We've been married 24 years. This is a good thing. I know a good thing when I got it, and I want to keep it going. And one way to keep it going is to take springtime walks with her. But springtime also means hungry trout. So my first bit of craftiness was to ensure we'd pass hungry trout on our walk. My wife suggested a wildflower hike. "Hmmm," I said. "How about a hike up Brice Creek to the falls? Should be lots of water gushing down now. "


We agreed and gathered water bottles and sandwiches into my day pack. The black tube concealing my collapsed tenkara rod slipped unobtrusively into the pack, along with a spool of leader, and a plastic wallet of flies. After the drive to the trailhead, I slung the pack onto my shoulders. No waders, no boots, no vest with fuzzy patches. By all appearances, I wasn't even thinking about fishing.


We crossed the foot bridge over Brice Creek, and I did sneak a peek down to a little trail of bubbles floating across a deep pool. But I said nothing. My wife, as always, commented on things we pass: a circle of ferns, a woodpecker hole, the exposed roots of an ash tree.


We got to our picnic spot and laid our blankets out on the ledge rock overlooking the stream. As we ate our sandwiches, I brought the conversation around to trout habitat and behavior. I explained that the clear water indicates the creek is nutrient-poor. Fish in nutrient-poor creeks are always looking for food, but they have to watch from a safe place. "See where the water is flowing into the pool? Fish could be hiding down there. Hey, let's see if we can get one to come up."


I grabbed the tenkara tube from the corner of the blanket. I attached the leader to the red stopper knot at the tip, unrolled the spool, and tied on a parachute Adams. I extended the rod's eight graduated sections. I was getting excited about making The First Cast, so I took pains to move in a staid professorial way, like a science teacher fitting together a telescope for students to look at the moon. In a fraction of the time to set up a normal fly rod, I held a rigged and ready twelve-foot tenkara rod over the stream.


We looked down at the water together. I flicked the rod back and cast forward, dropping the fly into the throat of the pool. The fly circled and drifted. No fish appeared. My wife watched a couple more casts, then wandered off upstream.


Of course, once she wasn't looking, a little cutthroat came up and swiped at my fly. Before I could call her back, she called me over to look at something she had found. I collapsed the tenkara and wrapped up the line. In moments, I went from "fishing" to "nature walk with wife."


She had found a salamander suspended underwater in a rain-filled depression in the ledge rock. She cooed over the salamander the way she does whenever she sees a small animal: a kitten, a duckling, a baby granddaughter. We watched the salamander sleep in his shady puddle, then headed back to the trail upstream.


When we got to the next fishy-looking pool, I said I wanted to try a couple more casts. This time, I gave her my polarized sunglasses to see into the water. She had to fit the sunglasses on top of her own glasses, which was awkward. I needed to work fast and use the tenkara's full advantage.


The long rod allowed me to reach across a couple shallow currents and drop the fly right on the best drift leading into the best pocket. This time a little cutthroat darted out of nowhere toward the fly. We saw him climbing up through the clear water. I hooked him and we kneeled down to enjoy the skinny little guy before I released him.


Then my wife walked off toward the trail. She walked off, even though there was a really fishy-looking riffle upstream. I then remembered she's not the one with the compulsion to fool every fish in every riffle. The tenkara lets us share some fishing, but she's not going to stand there and watch me fish.


I tried a few more casts, collapsed the rod and started off like a guy hiking to a waterfall. I really was looking forward to seeing that waterfall. Especially the foamy bubbles where the falls hit the pool. The tenkara can pulse a wooly bugger through that kind of water really well.