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2018 Tenkara Fly Fishing Diary

A big brook trout from the Ellis River

The trout fishing season is almost over in New Hampshire and this year been a watershed in my development as a fly fisherman. Despite the insufferable summer heat, the fishing was unexpectedly great, and I spent many a late afternoon or early evening by a riverside or stream with a fly rod. While I caught a lot of trout, I really benefited from the repetition of fishing many streams and rivers. I’ve been fishing for a few years, but this was the first year I really dedicated myself to integrating fishing into my daily routine and hiking trips.

Flies

My best performing flies this year were ants, bead head bugs, flymphs, and most recently, bead head prince nymphs. These are wet flies fished below the surface in the water column or bouncing along the river bottom. Most the rivers and streams I fish are less than 8 feet deep and often as shallow as a 1-2 feet. When I fish with a Tenkara rod, I can usually see the fly in the water, so I can adjust its depth. I’ve found that this can make a big difference on its attractiveness to feeding trout.

Typical fly assortment
Typical fly assortment – some standards, some patterns to experiment with. Mostly size 12.

I tie most of my own flies and while I watch fly tying videos on YouTube and read books that have lots of different patterns in them, I largely make up my own fly patterns with whatever materials I have hand on my fly tying bench. New Hampshire trout are not very choosy. At least not the ones in our smaller rivers and streams. Lake trout may be a different story, but I don’t do that kind of fishing because I like to hike along the streams and rivers I fish.

I experimented with a number of fly-tying ingredients this year including:

  • jig hooks and slotted beads, which are better for trout because they get hooked in the lips rather than down the throat, making for a faster and less invasive release. They are easier for trout to head-shake though.
  • ice dubbing, which is a sparkly reflective body material to get trouts’ attention in the water.
  • better quality dun and ginger capes for hackles with a better variety of feather lengths and better coloring
  • many more bead heads to help sink the flies

I wouldn’t be surprised if I spent as much time tying flies as I did fishing this year. It’s kind of hard to explain the pleasure I get from tying a nice looking fly and then using it on a river later in the day. I guess I’m hooked.

Rods

My faithful Tenkara USA Iwana remains my favorite rod to fish with, although I picked up a very sweet multi-piece 9′ Orvis Clearwater Frequent Flyer late in the season which is a better instrument for larger rivers, where more reach is required. I frequently carry both on hikes.

However, I am looking for a much shorter Tenkara rod (with a cork handle) for fishing small streams that have a lot of tree and bush cover. If you have a suggestion, let me know. I’d like a rod that’s as short as 6′ to 8′ in length.

Parapet Brook in the Great Gulf
Parapet Brook in the Great Gulf

Rivers

In previous years, I ranged far and wide looking for good trout fishing rivers, but this year I stayed surprisingly close to my New Hampshire digs, fishing the Ellis, the Wildcat River, the Peabody, and the Swift repeatedly, working different sections of the river to find the best fishing spots. This involved a surprising amount of bushwhacking, scrambling, and some wading, which doubled the fun.

Brookie on Nancy Brook
Brookie on Nancy Brook

I also started carrying at least one Tenkara rod on all of my hikes and backpacking trips, sampling a growing number of smaller streams to identify other good fishing destinations. This really opened up my eyes to the potential of New Hampshire fly fishing. Every river and stream has trout in it, from Smarts Brook and Nancy Brook to Synder Brook on Mount Madison. The tiny brook trout might not be monsters, but they’re fun to find, catch, and release.

I still sampled many rivers and smaller streams, almost too many to count, since it’s so easy to stop and fish for a while with a Tenkara Rod when you happen to pass by a nice section of trouty-looking water.

Here’s a list of my many ramblings. They all have trout. The trick is to learn how to read trout water to identify the places where they’re most likely to lie.

  1. Peabody River
  2. Ellis River
  3. Saco River
  4. Swift River
  5. Wildcat Brook
  6. Wild River
  7. Snyder Brook
  8. Israel River
  9. Zealand River
  10. Ammonoosuc River
  11. Smarts Brook
  12. Sawyer River
  13. Nancy Brook
  14. East Branch Pemigewasset
  15. Parapet Brook
  16. Rocky Branch River
  17. East Branch Saco River
  18. Cold River
  19. Evans Brook
  20. Austin Mill Brook
  21. Bemis Brook
  22. Norcross Brook
  23. Meadow Brook
Smarts Brook Gorge
Smarts Brook Gorge

The New Hampshire trout season starts shutting down between September 30th to October 15th, depending on the river. There are a few that remain open later in the season and year round, which I might give a go before it gets too cold to fish.

The New Hampshire Freshwater Fishing Digest lists the seasons for each species and the special rules governing different rivers. There are a surprising number of rivers with extended seasons, including rivers that are open year-round, which is worth knowing about if you want to ease into the off-season. I might just…

But until next spring, I guess I’m going to be tying a lot of flies.

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DragonTail Hydra zx390 Tenkara Zoom Rod Review

The DragonTail Hydra zx390 is an adjustable-length zoom Tenkara Fly Fishing Rod which can be fished at two different lengths: 13 ft and 11.5 ft. Zoom rods have become popular because they give you two rods for the price of one: a longer rod for landing bigger fish and a shorter rod for fishing smaller streams.

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of a zoom rod, so I accepted DragonTail’s invitation to review one. Having a multi-length Tenkara rod is an attractive idea for fishing bigger rivers and wider rivers, where the added length of an adjustable rod gives you more reach and a stiffer base gives you more backbone for landing bigger fish.

The DragonTail Hydra Tenkara Rod
The DragonTail Hydra Tenkara Rod, shown with snap-on line winder.

Specs at a Glance

  • Make/Model: DragonTail Hydra zx390 Zoom Rod
  • MSRP: $139.99
  • Material: Carbon Fiber
  • Handle: Cork
  • Rod Weight: 3.2 oz
  • Length Extended: 13 ft and 11.5 ft
  • Segments: 9
  • Length Closed: 21″
  • Case: Included, 6.5 oz

The Hydra Rod is well-manufactured with a comfortable cord handle, well fitting segments, and the end cap stays nice and tight. In addition to the case, the rod comes with a rod sock, which I promptly misplaced and never carry, and a protective tip cap. The locking mechanism between the short and longer length positions is marked with some bumps in the black matte finish and holds fast when set. I’m not sure I can explain exactly how it works but it’s easy enough to figure out by feel.

DragonTail also sent me a huge care package of furled lines, level lines, line cards, foam line holders and a snap-on line winder (which is just great). They really have quite nice Tenkara accessories and you should check them out.

I mainly fish in medium-size streams and small rivers, where I can usually cast from one bank to eddies along the opposite bank without getting my feet wet. I like to move around frequently and change positions to reach different features working my way upstream or downstream. I prefer streams and rivers with a noticeable gradient, working pools, eddy lines, and runs, but shy away from lakes or ponds because they’re too boring to fish. New England streams don’t generally have dense fish populations, so you need to probe a lot of different locations before you get a strike. I rarely wear waders because I hike or bushwhack into streams and they’re too bulky to carry.

This being New England, we have Brook Trout, Brown Trout, and Rainbows, but they never reach the giant proportions of their western counterparts. The fish in these mountain streams tend to run on the small side, rarely exceeding 12″ in length. They’re small and feisty, but less choosy about the flies they’ll take since there’s less food for them to eat in the narrow streams and cold water they inhabit. I can usually fish a caddis, bug, flymph, or a terrestrial and land a trout. I tie my own flies instead of buying them because I catch more fish that way, although Reading Trout Water had something to do with it too.

A big brookie caught on the DragonTail Hydra
A big (New England) brookie caught on the DragonTail Hydra

When I fish with the Hydra, I usually keep it fully extended, because the added reach is nice to have, except on streams with a dense canopy. Since, I fish on smaller streams and rivers, the things I look for in a Tenkara rod are precision casting and the ability to detect subtle strikes on my line. I fish with barbless hooks (for catch and release) and it’s important to pull up the tip quickly to set the hook before the fish gets away.

The Hydra took me a while to get use to because I normally fish with a lighter 11′ rod. But once I dialed it in, I found the Hydra a very precise caster with a 10′ orange flourocarbon line with a 3′ to 6′ foot tippet. With the Hydra, I can work all the rocks in a pool, the holes under a cascade, or the eddy lines along a run, effortlessly from the opposite bank, which provides me with a lot of stealth so the trout can’t see me.

The Dragontail Hydra is a long rod with a soft action

The Hydra has a lot of backbone and when I land large trout I can muscle them around pretty effortlessly. But when I hook a smaller trout (under 6″) and give them a pull, they’ll launch out of the water like a cannonball, more often than not flying off my hook and back into the river. I don’t mind (that much), but then again, I don’t have to live on what I catch.

With the Hydra fully extended to its 13 ft length, I’ve found it very hard to feel smaller fish nibbling on my line. It’s frustrating and I’ve lost many smaller fish because I can’t feel that telltale tug. It’s not an issue with bigger fish, because there’s no disguising a take from them. But New England mountain streams have a lot more small fish than big fish. While the (tip) action on the Hydra is soft so it bends easily, a fully extended Hydra doesn’t transmit the subtle take of a small fish in an unambiguous way, making it difficult to distinguish between normal line movement and a fish hitting the hook.

When fished with its shorter 11.5 ft length, the Hydra is much more playful and effective in propagating subtle hits back to the cork. But it’s still more sluggish than my other fixed-length Tenkara Rods because it’s much heavier. Net net, I think the Hydra is simply too much rod for small trout under 6″ in length. While the added length over my existing rods is very nice for being able to fish wider streams and rivers, I can compensate for the missing length by tying on a longer tippet and repositioning myself more often.

I think it’s worth emphasizing that I fish in New England, where the mountain streams are far less fertile than out west and the fish are usually around 6″ in length. When testing the Hydra, I fished it in small rivers where I knew larger trout would be present and it performed well with bigger trout, where the take was obvious. If you fish in such water, the DragonTail Hydra will probably be a good rod for your needs. But if the fish you’re likely to catch are on the smaller end of the spectrum, the Hydra is overkill and I’d recommend getting yourself a lighter fixed-length 11′ Tenkara rod instead.

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Last updated: 2018-08-02 18:17:45

The author received a sample rod for this review.

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