There are 86,000 miles of “active streams” in Pennsylvania. Think about that: 86,000 miles of streams, creeks and rivers. The only state with a larger number is Alaska. It also makes sense that PA has one of the largest numbers of fly fishers in this country. Trout Unlimited (TU), a national conservancy dedicated to protecting, connecting and restoring cold-water fisheries and watersheds, boasts 13,000 Pennsylvania members, making up 49 TU chapters – more than any other state. With a large concentration of these waterways located within the PA Wilds, our region has both a wide variety of streams and a large number of PA fly fishers. We’re privileged to enjoy this therapeutic pastime, and our amazing PA Wilds landscapes.
Recently, I met with Scott Whitehead and his wife Marina, owners of Featherman Creations in Penfield, a fishing and outdoor shop just off State Road 255 as you enter town. I regularly visit Scott; he’s in touch with local outdoor businesses, outdoor enthusiasts, and travelers from both near and far looking to capture a piece of the PA Wilds to take home and savor. On recent fly fishing outings, Scott has helped me to substitute some of PA’s bigger and more well-revered streams – Spring Creek and the Little Juniata – for some in-your-backyard small streams that are kind of like tattoos: They can be original art, definitely leave an imprint (be it in your head or your soul), and define things/moments/places that are quite special.
Scott shares the story of Tenkara fly fishing with me. Nearly 500 years ago, Japanese commercial trout fishermen created Tenkara fly fishing in the small mountain streams of Japan. The essence of Tenkara fishing is that it:
I’m good with that because I own several rods, reels, fly lines, tippet lines, flies, and many other fly fishing “essentials.” But Tenkara fly fishing is way different from what I think fly fishing is.
So a few days later we’re “taking inventory,” hitting Medix Run (at Medix Run), Hicks Run (nearing Driftwood), and Laurel Run (the south Run coming off of Parker Lake over Parker Dam spillway). My Tenkara USA “Rhodo” rod is very light and quite delicate compared to other fly rods I own. It extends to three different fixed fishing lengths – 8”10,” 9’9,” and (fully extended) 10’6.” On Medix Run, we’re enveloped in a tight tree canopy overhead and some beautiful fall colors. On the stream, we work around dense branches and foliage, dropping close to the water where it’s difficult to do any traditional casting. But with Tenkara fishing, it’s very simple. Initially, we use the 8’10” extension. The fly fine consists of two different fly-line sections. The first is a 9-foot section of “level line.” Think of this as the “leader” in conventional fly fishing. Then, connected to the level line is a three-foot section of “tippet”, which is then tied to the fly.
Tenkara flies are also different – they don’t mimic conventional fly patterns. The “hackle” typically faces the opposite direction, perhaps as a fish “trigger,” and a fly fisher has only a few Tenkara fly patterns to choose from. These patterns come in several sizes, but what’s key is the technique used in Tenkara fly fishing. If bugs are hatching on the stream surface, then drifting the fly on the water surface can be very effective. The fly can also be paused as it drifts in the water, mended, or fished under the surface like a nymph pattern.
So we have a fabulous day fishing on three gorgeous small streams in the middle of God’s own patch of the PA Wilds. We start at Medix Run and move up and East to a section close to where the Little Medix Run conjoins with Medix proper a few miles up. Depending on our stream dynamics and surrounding canopy, we can adequately match the rods, line and our techniques to wherever we’re fishing. The fish are small here, and most of what we hook are native Brook Trout – maybe the most beautiful of the trout family – and the only trout species native to PA streams. After a few hours, we head Northeast to Hicks Run, about a mile up North from the State Highway 555 in Eastern Benezette, and hook a few more. Then as the afternoon begins to wane we decide to conclude our triathlon and hit Laurel Run out of Parker Dam in Penfield, which neither one of us has fished before. And when we get snapped in on the stream, we hook a few here, too.
So my day is intriguing, and an enjoyable learning experience. Fly fishing Tenkara, in the tighter streams of Central Pennsylvania, is different. And because of the dynamics of these backyard streams, Tenkara will have a place in my fly fishing toolbelt, and in my approach. My traditional fly patterns can be used instead of the Tenkara flies – dries, nymphs, Euro’s and others – and I can add line or tippet to my setup, depending on the water I’m fishing to alter my stream approach. And I can leave my vest and tools in the car, which makes for an easy outing.
Check out Scott at Featherman Creations in Penfield, or on FaceBook, for any questions on Tenkara fishing.
All photos taken and submitted by Ray Hunt.
Ray Hunt is a freelance writer and avid outdoor enthusiast who enjoys fly fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking and outdoor activities in the PA Wilds. He is a member of the Diablo Valley Fly Fishing Club (DVFF), the PA Outdoor Writers Association (POWA), Trout Unlimited (TU), and lives in Clearfield County and works in the media industry. He can be reached at email@example.com.