Not long ago, a customer sent me an email praising the Tenryu Rayz Alter RZA62UL-S as a sweet rod for brookies in the headwaters. That surprised me a little, as my idea of a headwaters rod was a lot closer to the Tenryu Rayz RZ39LL, which is only 3'9" long and is very easy to cast in very tight quarters. The 6'2" rod he praised just seemed too long.
Then I realized that the tenkara rods I recommend for fishing the headwaters are mostly 9' long or longer. On any stream where I can swing a 9' tenkara rod a 6' spinning rod should be no problem whatsoever.
I had to give it a try.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say I used my RZA61L-T (very similar, but with a tubular tip instead of a solid tip). Also, I didn't actually go to a headwaters stream. I went to the small stream I'd been to the previous week and had had an absolutely wonderful day. I wanted to see if I could catch as many fish with lures as I did with flies.
I didn't, but only because 1). I left at 2:30 in the afternoon after hearing a peal of thunder. I'll fish in the rain - and I did for most of the time from noon onwards. I don't mess around with lightning, though - especially when waving a 6' lightning rod. 2). When I arrived at the stream there was already a guy in what for me had always been the most productive part of the stream. I hiked pretty far upstream before starting to fish and never did see him again. Hours later, I circled back to fish that productive stretch, and sure enough, there was another guy fishing there. I went to a different part of the stream and fished there until I heard the thunder.
I am confident that had I been able to fish that productive stretch and had I fished for the same number of hours as I did the previous trip, I would have caught more with lures than I did with flies. As it is, I was only two fish shy of the previous week's number.
Regular readers might think "How would you know you were only two fish shy? Your fish counting system is one, two, a few, and many." That is normally true, but last week I had decided to photograph every fish because I never know which photo will turn out to be one I'd want to use on the website. After going through the photos when I got home to compare the spot patterns for the fish (like fingerprints, no two of them are the same) I realized just how amazing a day it was. That made me want to do the fly/lure comparison.
Now that I've been there, done that, I think I'll go back to my standard counting system and take only a few photos. It got to the point where having to take the photo reduced the enjoyment of the moment.
I started out with a Shimano Slim Swimmer 1.5g gold spoon, which is well within the recommended lure weight range for the Alter (Tenru says the low end approaches zero). The 1.5g spoon did cast well - certainly as far as I needed to cast on a small stream and accurately enough to hit some small bank eddies and be rewarded with almost immediate strikes. I later used the 2.5g and 3.5g Slim Swimmers also.
I had thought that smaller "headwaters" trout would be more likely to hit the smaller 1.5g spoon, but it seemed they hit the 2.5g spoon just as well. The 3.5g spoon did not seem to draw as many strikes from the 5" trout, but seemed to do just as well as the smaller spoons with the 7 and 8 inchers.
This trip was my first chance to try the Smith AR-S single hook spinners. I can report that they work -- really well! The spinners come with a single barbless hook. If you are sharp eyed, you may have noticed that the hook in the above photo has a micro barb. I confess that I cannot keep 5 and 6 inch fish on barbless hooks very well. They're just to wriggly. Most of the fish in this stream are 5 and 6 inch fish. I swapped the barbless hook for an Owner S-21 size 8, which proved to hold the small fish very well.
I didn't count how many fish were caught with a spoon and how many were caught with the spinner. With both, the total was many (no, actually it was many, many). The Smith AR-S did not cause problems with line twist, so if you tend to favor spinners over spoons, I can report that this is a good one.
After lunch, I switched to a baitcaster. I didn't think to bring a 6' baitcaster to match the 6' spinning rod. I suspect that the Daiwa Area Bum 60L-B would have done well. The Daiwa Wise Stream 45UL-B certainly did, although it did do better with the 3.5g Slim Swimmer spoons than the 2.5g ones. Perhaps I should say "I" did better with the 3.5g spoons. The rod is rated for lures down to 1.5g.
One of the things I like about lure fishing, whether spinning or baitcasting, is that trout will chase a lure, sometimes for a long way, and when doing so they focus so intently on the lure that they don't seem to notice that I'm there. Almost every trip I get at least one hit when there's no more than about 4' of line beyond the rod tip.
For much of the time on Monday, I fished fairly light lures. To keep them under the surface, towards the end of the retrieve I often reeled with my rod tip at or even a little below the surface. I got two hook ups with no more than a foot of line out. Both fish managed to wriggle off the hook.
With the rod tip a little below the surface I couldn't always see where the lure was so I reeled until it hit the rod tip.
And then it happened. I suppose it had to happen eventually. A fish grabbed the spinner right as it hit the rod tip. I am extremely lucky that that it was a small fish! From now on, I will pick up the lure when there is still some line out.
Despite being a short day is was extremely productive.
I had mentioned casting to bank eddies and getting hits as I started the retrieve. That is something you have frequently seen if you are a fan of Angler Saito's "Enjoy Fishing Channel" on YouTube. Mountain stream fishing techniques are not specific to the fishing method, though. The above photo is one I did to illustrate a lesson that Erik Ostrander taught a few of us at one of the Oni School sessions in Utah in 2017. (The Oni School is a three day workshop taught by Masami Sakakibara, known as Tenkara no Oni - tenkara demon - who is a true master of Japanese tenkara and flies from Japan just to teach the school. Erik and his partners at Tenkara Guides LLC put on the school.)
A bank eddy does not have to be very big to have a fish right at the seam between the current and the eddy. Whether you fish lures or flies, don't overlook bank eddies - even surprisingly small ones.
The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.