First Published in The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y.
There was a milestone a few weeks back in the evolutionof tenkara fly-fishing in the United States.
A tenkara angler was a member of the four-angler, two-guide team that won the Utah Single Fly Event, a well-known contest on the Green River in September.
What’s more, the tenkara angler, Erik Ostrander, caught more fish than anyone else in the contest except for one — and the one was Lance Egan, one of the best fly-fishers in the country, who just two weeks before had been the high rod on the U.S. men’s team at the fly-fishing world championships in Italy.
“To come in behind Lance isn’t a bigdeal,” said Brian Hoskisson, the guide in the boat with Ostrander and teammate Paul Stay. “Erik kind of came in first among mortals.”
As far as anyone knows, this was the first time a tenkara rod had been used in competition in the U.S.
Ostrander occasionally uses a conventional fly rod for streamer fishing, but does most of his fishing with a tenkara rod. He and two friends have launched a tenkara-only guide service, Tenkara Guides LLC, in Salt Lake.
He had never met his teammates until the night before the Single Fly. He had seen on an Internet forum that one of the team’s original four members had been forced to drop out of the contest, and volunteered to fill the spot. Upon arriving at the motel near Flaming Gorge Reservoir, introduced himself to Stay and Hoskisson, and told them he would be using a tenkara rod.
“They were a little reluctant that I was going to be fishing with a fixed line,” Ostrander said.
Hoskisson recalled, “The guys had me over to their room to talk strategy. Everyone pulls out their rod tubes, and [Ostrander] pulls out this tiny little tube and stretches out this 131⁄2-foot thing across the room.
“I had seen them before, but I had always figured they were for small streams only, so I was kind of wondering if we weren’t going to go out there and have a rough time of it,” he said. “I suggested he bring a western rod with him as a backup, but he said, ‘I’m going to give this a try.’ ”
This took nerve. The Utah Single Fly attracts serious anglers, and the Green River is powerful and large. A poor showing would have been embarrassing for Ostrander, and would have been terrible PR for a method of fishing still struggling for respect from much of the fly-fishing world.
Then again, Ostrander had reason to be confident. He had fished the Green with his tenkara rod a number of times, including the day before the contest, and done well.
For the competition, he fished a 13-foot, seven-inch Tenkara USA Amago, and chose for his one fly a foam-hopper pattern made by the guide in the team’s other boat, Scott Barus. He Turle-knotted the hopper to a four-foot, 3X tippet, which was knotted to four feet of 2X, which was knotted to a furled, 15-foot, custom tenkara line made by Streamside Leaders.
Adding to his teammates’ anxiety was the fact that Ostrander would have to hand-line his fish. If you have 23 feet of line attached to the tip of a 131⁄2-foot rod, with no way to reel in, you simply can’t hold the rod in one hand and scoop up the trout with the other.
We’re all taught that hand-lining a large fish is a recipe for disaster, but Ostrander, like many tenkara anglers, does it all the time.
“For me, hand-lining is just a fact of life when fishing tenkara, and any good tenkara fisherman is going to know how to hand-line fish,” he said.
Over the next eight hours, Ostrander hand-lined 33 of the 46 trout caught by his half of Team Stonefly Society (named for a Trout Unlimited chapter in Salt Lake City.) The team’s two boats ended up with 201 points (at one point per fish and one point per inch of two measured fish.) The next closest team scored 172.
“The biggest thing that impressed me right off was how well he could fish the pockets with having minimal line on the water,” said Hoskisson, who has guided on the Green for eight years. “The only thing touching the water was his fly. We’d go along and Erik would just pick the pockets as we’d go.”
At the banquet at day’s end, “You heard a lot of, ‘Huh,’ ” Hoskisson said.
Ostrander is too nice a guy to gloat, but he was clearly happy to have shown the potential of fixed-line fly-fishing.
“A lot of these guys told me, ‘If I had known you were going to use a tenkara rod ahead of time, I would have tried to talk you out of it.’ Now, there are a lot of people that want to fish with me.”
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at email@example.com.