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March 17, 2016

Since discovering Tenkara several years ago Grayling have been high on the list of fish species that I have wanted to fish for. This past January when my brother called me to say that he was getting married in Liverpool, England and wanted me to be his Best Man. I knew this was finally the chance to realize my dream of catching a Grayling on the fly.

I had heard about this outfit Discover Tenkara, which is based out of the Peak District, and reached out to them to schedule a guided trip. Our flight was scheduled to arrive March 13th and the last day of Grayling season was the 14th. Keeping my fingers crossed that there would not be any unforeseen travel difficulties, I booked a trip for my wife and I with John Pearson - for the last day of Grayling season.

John Pearson and me on the River Don.

After a 12+ hour flight from Narita Airport we landed safely in Manchester, England. We breezed through customs (there is a first for everything I guess), collected our rental car, and made our way to Chinley where we would be staying for the next few days. In short order we were sipping on a pint of warm beer and cider tucked into our warm and absolutely fabulous lodging - The Old Hall Inn on the edge of the famous Peak District.

The next morning, still a bit jet lagged, we set out from the Chinley Station to meet up with our guide. As we peered out the window of the train scenes from a fairy tale drifted lazily by. The sky was a crisp blue dotted with wispy white clouds, there were patches of snow tucked in the clefts of the tallest hills that were coated in green grass and grazing sheep, and spectacular rivers carved through the magnificent landscape interspersed with trees, hedgerows, and quaint villages. At the Dore and Totley train station John Pearson collected us and we hopped in his car for the short drive to the river. Along the way we discussed all manner of topics ranging from our various expeditions in Japan, spawning cycles of the native fish, flies, and the river that we were to be fishing that day - the River Don.

Urban Flyfishing The river that we would be fishing in Sheffield, UK.

In the interest of traveling light I had only packed one carry on sized luggage piece, a small bag and no fishing gear besides my trusty Patagonia hat. John had us covered though with some heavy duty waders, several boxes of hand tied nymphs and kebaris, two beautiful wooden tenkara nets, and three to four Tenkara Centre rods. We stocked up on lunch at the market next to the river and then began the pleasant walk down the bicycle path that paralleled the river to the first fishing hole.

One of the first things I noticed about the river was the color of the water, it was a very dark whiskey color. I ha not fished a river like this since the Blackwater River in West Virginia. John explained that it was the tannins seeping into the water from peat moss in the moorlands. The color of the water did make for some spicy wading as you could not make out the river bed and were often stepping blindly. With the aid of John's wading staff the three of us made it safely to the far side of river where John began to set up our Tenkara rods. After about 30 minutes or so and no bites John tied on a dropper, my first time fishing with such a rig, and in short order I had hooked my first Grayling.

Fun fact of the day: Grayling have a very unique scent! Photo Credit - John Pearson, Discover Tenkara UK.

Right before I caught my first Grayling Paul Gaskell showed up. It was quite an exciting day for me as I had read and learned so much from these two gentlemen regarding Tenkara and in the same day I was fishing with both of them. The intuitive line rigs that we fished with throughout the day helped immensely with visualizing strikes, line contact, and natural fly drift (techniques that are covered in their fabulous free email series). I learned more in one day on the river with both of them then I have learned in the three plus years I have been fishing Tenkara.

I had never fished with a dropper before but it proved to be quite productive with fish slamming one of the two flies (or both) throughout the day. A few minutes after the first Grayling I brought to hand another and then another (and the fourth got off as I was bringing it into the net).

My wife was fishing below me but coming up empty handed, so after a bit we crossed the river and settled in for some lunch on the bank of the river.

I was eager for my wife to catch a fish, as she had never caught a fish with a Tenkara rod, in fact the only fish she had caught in her life was a Catfish in Oregon when she was 8. So after lunch we split up, I headed off to fish with Paul for a bit while John worked with my wife to help her catch a fish.

Paul Gaskell tying on another nymph while my wife and John fish further upstream (Note: The French nymphing indicator at the end of the green nylon line).

In no time at all I heard a holler from upstream and saw a very nice bend in my wife's Tenkara rod. I watched from afar as she expertly brought a good sized fish into John's waiting net.

My wife's first fish - a wild Brown Trout!

Paul and I fished a promising looking spot and practiced the grid method (another technique listed in their free newsletter). While I was getting numerous strikes I kept missing the sets. One thing that I came to discover was that when a Grayling tastes a fly the take is incredibly subtle and very quick. A split second delay in setting the hook means the fish is already gone. Paul assuaged my defeat with the suggestion that because the pool was so beautiful it likely saw a lot of pressure and therefore the fish were very wary and difficult to catch.

Paul was late for a meeting and had to depart so I wandered back upstream to where my wife and John were fishing. She had just hooked into a beautiful Grayling but it had gotten off so we wandered for a bit until we came upon another promising looking spot.

I had been hoping to catch a Brown Trout and round out the game fish species that lived in the river. After working the spot methodically I came upon a promising spot and after a few missed sets I landed a beautiful wild Brown Trout.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and so to was our fabulous day on the River Don. A bit reluctantly we packed up our rods and made our way back to the car.

The happy couple at the end of the day.

That evening after a lovely sunset we recounted the day's adventures over a wonderful British meal and a few pints of cider and warm beer. The day had been so splendid that it almost seemed as if we had been dreaming. I had never booked a guided fly fishing trip before and my brain was overflowing with all that I had learned. Still days after the trip I find myself connecting dots and thinking about the various techniques that were shown to me in new ways.

Having now Tenkara fly fished on three continents I am eager to explore other regions and target other foreign fish species. I think the next place on my bucket list is Patagonia. In the meantime I am eager to get back to Japan where the snow is beginning to melt and the trees are starting to bud and bloom.

Written by Isaac Tait who now lives in San Diego but dreams of returning, one day, to Japan. You should follow him on Twitter