Hook and Cook and Fun: seiryu rods for catch and keep fisheries

Keiryu-caught stocked rainbows getting ready to become "shore lunch"

Keiryu-caught stocked rainbows getting ready to become "shore lunch"

Chris Stewart of is very much my mentor in exploring the world of tenkara and related fishing methods. Most of this is largely because I read his site religiously, and whenever he posts about something like the micro egg fly, the radically simple overhand worm fly, or ultralight worm fishing I rush to the nearest water to try it out. I have also met and fished with Chris and I can tell you that he is the real deal: he loves to fish, he loves to get people interested in new ways of fishing, and he is an all-around great guy.

So when I saw his latest post on his website and realized it was inspired by me I was very flattered! In the post he lays out one of the major goals I hope to accomplish here at Ozark Tenkara: I'd love to spread the gospel of keiryu fishing for trout. Many trout fisheries throughout the country have coldwaters that will support trout, but are not favorable for trout spawning. These waters are heavily stocked with hatchery rainbow trout to support "catch and keep" or "hook and cook" fisheries. People want to catch and eat fish, and I think keiryu would be an ideal method for them.

As an example, let's take a look at one of the fisheries where I'd like to start a keiryu guiding service, the Beaver Lake Tailwater on the White River of NW Arkansas. When I searched for trout fishing guides for the area on Facebook, I found lots of pictures of smiling clients posing next to limits of modest rainbow trout on a cleaning station table, so there is obviously a demand for "hook and cook" fishing here.

This 7-mile stretch of river is a mixed species fishery, with large numbers of rainbow trout (projected 96,000 fish for 2018) stocked to support a harvest fishery and modest numbers (6000 for 2018) of brown trout stocked to provide potential trophy fishing. There is a special management area allowing only barbless hooked artificial lures, but the majority of the tailwater allows bait fishing with a single barbed hook. There is a harvest limit of 5 trout. Only one trout over 16" may be kept, and all trout between 13-16" must be released.

Here's where keiryu comes in: the slot limit. One of the concerns regarding bait fishing and catch and release is post-release mortality rate. The classic slip-sinker and Powerbait rig is very likely to result in deeply hooked fish. The same is true of 3-way drift rigs. With spinning tackle and passive fishing tactics, the angler often has a great deal of line out. By the time the angler realizes a fish has taken the bait and sets the hook, the bait could be halfway down the fish's esophagus.

What is needed is an active bait fishing method with a relatively short, tight line and a very sensitive strike indication system and preferably barbless hooks. This is exactly what keiryu provides, and trout caught keiryu fishing are rarely deep hooked. Instead, the hook ends up in the jaw, exactly like a fly. So we can bait fish and safely release those slot limit fish (and I'd recommend releasing the browns and bigger rainbows, but they're legal to keep so I'm not going to stop anyone if they insist.)

Given the modest size of the average trout in this fishery (a 2010 electrofishing survey found that 70% of the trout in the system were in the 11"-13" range), I think the longer length (4.5+ m) seiryu rods would be better suited to the task than more robust keiryu rods.

My concerns are rod weight, cost, and "fun factor." I want a light rod that won't wear out a client, that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and provides an exciting fishing experience. While there are relatively inexpensive long keiryu rods like the Nissin 2-Way Yu Yu Zan series, these rods are relatively heavy. There are very light long keiryu rods like the Suntech Kurenai Long 61, but these rods are much more expensive. As for fun factor, a modest rainbow trout will put up an exciting fight with a long seiryu rod.

But what about the occasional "big" fish? Chris Stewart's fishing buddy Coach says we often underestimate the ability of a long soft rod to subdue sizable fish. I've seen pictures of impressive fish Coach has caught with the seemingly very delicate Suntech Kurenai HM39R seiryu rod, and I've tangled with and landed a few good-sized fish (including a 10" smallmouth bass that may have provided the single most exciting fishing experience of my entire life) with the even shorter Kurenai HM30R, so I think that the very affordable, light, and slightly more robust Daiwa Seiryu-X rods (rated for 5x tippet instead of 6.5x) in the longer lengths should be ideal for this fishery. You may not land every one of the 16+" fish, but you will certainly have a very exciting fight on your hands. 

I have  Seiryu-X 45 and 64 rods in shipment to me as we speak. Testing will commence as soon as my schedule permits! 


Come to the dark side...we have worms.


Bait fishing. When you're around fly anglers, those two words are often spoken with a certain tone of voice imparting the sentiment "bless their dear hearts they haven't become fully enlightened 12th-level aqua mages like us fly fishers."

I'm a fly angler through and through. I also fish with bait. FOR TROUT. 

OK, I hope you've recovered. I am not above soaking Powerbait to catch some stocked rainbows for the frying pan in put and take cold season lake fishing. But what if I were to tell you that there is a very effective active bait fishing method more akin to fly fishing? And what if I told you that this method even makes catch and release possible with bait fishing?


Such a method does exist, and it's called keiryu fishing. Keiryu means "mountain stream" in Japanese, and is much more popular than tenkara in Japan. Like tenkara, keiryu rods are fixed-line fishing tools. The difference is that keiryu rods are designed for fishing with weight (usually split shot) whereas tenkara rods are designed for fishing unweighted or lightly weighted flies. The bait can be anything: red wigglers, meal worms, salmon eggs, even aquatic insects collected from the stream you're fishing.

Just as in tenkara, the essence of keiryu is the drift. Keiryu lines are often quite light (4x or smaller tippet material), and for good reason: eliminating line sag. This keeps the main line off the water so that drag is minimized. However, this thin line is often very hard to see so some sort of indicator is needed to detect takes. Unlike conventional fly fishing indicators, keiryu markers are suspended above the surface of the water. 

Keiryu indicators are usually small sections of brightly colored synthetic yarn, tied to the main line above the line/tippet junction. It's best to use multiple markers a few inches apart for maximum visibility and sensitivity. It's the sensitivity that makes keiryu compatible with catch and release fishing. When keiryu fishing with a tight line, even the lightest takes will show up via the indicators as a dip or movement to the side. All you have to do is lift the rod tip to set the hook. The quick strikes result in almost all fish being hooked exactly as they are when fly fishing. Just as in fly fishing, there are the rare instances of deep hooking, but nothing like the gut hooking you get from bottom fishing with bait.

If this sounds to you to be a lot like Czech nymphing with bait, then you're on to something. Keiryu rods make excellent nymphing rods as well, in fact much better than most tenkara rods. That is a topic for another post.