What Is Tenkara?
Tenkara is the art, sport, science, and method of fly fishing developed in the remote mountain streams of ancient Japan. Unlike Western fly fishing, there is no reel in Tenkara. Using only a rod, line, and fly, Tenkara anglers catch fish by utilizing technique instead of modern equipment.
Using a long rod and equally long line allow one to reach surprisingly far. Because it was developed in small mountain streams, it is here that Tenkara shines. Because there are no large areas for fish to run, there is no need for a reel. The rod’s exceptional reach and intuitive casting action make precise fly placement breathtakingly simple. So simple in fact, that the average Tenkara fishing kit weighs less than half an average can of soda. Rods average about 12 feet in length, and collapse down to around 20 inches in just a few seconds. As you might expect, Tenkara is growing rapidly since being revealed to the Western world. Keep reading to find out why.
As stated above, Tenkara set-ups are incredibly lightweight. They can be brought virtually anywhere without added weight expense, deployed in seconds, and catch fish very effectively. Tenkara fishing kits usually consist of nothing more than a collapsible rod, one line, a few feet of tippet, and a handful of flies.
Compared to Western-style anglers often seen hauling huge kits with multiple rods, reels, tools, and hundreds of flies; Tenkara is a breeze to pack with you on the trail. This makes it ideal for backpacking, bushcraft, and hiking trips. Whenever you find a spot to fish, it’s possible to be on the water catching fish in just a few minutes. When moving from place to place on the water: simply collapse your rod and wind up your line. This allows you to easily move through dense brush without fighting tangles and snags on a full-length rod.
History & Philosophy of Tenkara
Tenkara in Japanese translates to “from heaven”. It was developed and used by subsistence fishermen, whether to feed themselves or earn a living at the fish markets. These anglers used nothing more than a bamboo rod, horse hair line, and a homemade fly likely composed of locally gathered feathers.
Fishing Tenkara is optimized to be as simple and effective as possible. Without the burden of excess gadgets and gear, Tenkara anglers focus on presentation and technique to claim their bounty. There’s no need for mending line, false casting, or switching flies.
Tenkara – Simplicity & Versatility
The average twenty to thirty foot reach is enough to reach any spot on a small stream. This allows you to delicately play currents and eddies, dropping flies right in front of trout’s nose with precision accuracy. Because Tenkara line is so light, and there’s very little excess to worry about, it’s easy to keep almost all of your line off the water; eliminating drag and enhancing presentation. This high degree of control simply catches more fish, period.
True to it’s simplicity, Tenkara only necessitates the use of a few flies. In fact, well known Japanese Tenkara masters usually only use one style: the Kebari, or reverse-hackle fly. Renowned Tenkara master Dr. Ishigaki, widely known for revealing Tenkara to the Western world, has fished the Kebari fly exclusively for over ten years. Ishigaki and other masters insist never to blame their equipment or switch flies every few casts. Instead, to read the water, discover potential lays, and focus on creating the most lifelike presentation possible.
Tenkara for Beginners
Because it’s effective enough to quickly catch fish anywhere and simple enough for any trip through the bush; Tenkara is perfect for beginners. Whether you’re thinking about taking up Western fly fishing or new to fishing altogether, Tenkara is the answer. Total beginners often catch fish on their very first outing, sometimes within their first few casts.
Instead of spending thousands of dollars on Western fly fishing gear, buying lessons to learn complicated casting techniques, or studying ecology to “match the hatch”; Spend a couple hundred on a simple Tenkara kit and head straight to the water. This will have you learning as fast as possible, and quickly addicted to your practice. As they say: “The stream is the best classroom”. You’ll soon have the proper foundation to either proceed towards Western fly fishing, or continue to master Tenkara.
Harvesting Fish With Tenkara
If you plan to bring your kit along with you on an adventure; you’ll not only be easily able to catch fish for recreation, but for extra protein as well. Trout are delicious, packed with nutrients and protein, and relatively easy to prepare.
Because they naturally live in clean, cold, pristine waters; fresh wild trout are some of the highest quality fish you can eat. However, always heed local regulations and practice proper techniques whenever you plan to harvest fish.
Tenkara – Conservation Techniques
Making use of healthy fishing techniques not only preserve local populations for the future, but ensure your health as well. Thorough research has been done to establish daily bag limits no matter where you fish. These limits exist to maintain local populations under fishing pressure. They’ll tell you where and when you can fish, what size, and how many you can take.
Beyond local regulations, good conservation practices help preserve natural trout habitat as well. Whenever you plan to catch and release, it’s a good idea to never pick up a trout and remove it from the water. Trout that are excessively handled and removed from the water are proven less likely to survive. Handling trout exposes their delicate skin to your comparatively dry, rough, oily hands. This can damage the protective membrane of slime that protects them from fungal and bacterial infections.
Once you’ve decided to pursue Tenkara, you’ll not only want to become familiar with conservation practices, but your gear and technique as well. Learning to set up your kit, tie knots, and cast a fly is much easier at home than on the water. Keep reading to learn how to catch your first fish.
How to Get Started With Tenkara
If you’re just starting out, we recommend you purchase an affordable pre-built kit. This means you won’t have the hassle and worry of researching the pros and cons of each option. Instead, you’ll be able to get straight out on the water and start catching fish. No matter which kit you get, the basic principles are the same. You’ll need to know how to properly extend and collapse your rod, tie your knots, and cast a fly. We’ll cover all of these points and provide a few gear recommendations below.
How To Set Up Your Tenkara Rod
Setting up your Tenkara rod is pretty easy. Feel free to watch the video provided by Tenkara Rod Co. for an easy visual walkthrough.
How To Cast With Tenkara
When casting with Tenkara, the rod performs almost like an extension of your body. Aiming is simple and intuitive, as you’ll soon find out. Join Daniel Galhardo, founder of TenkaraUSA as he demonstrates how to cast with Tenkara.
Tenkara Casting Techniques
Once you’re accustomed to a basic overhead cast you’ll be able to try out a few variations to increase your chances of a strike. Join Daniel once again for a demonstration.
Tenkara Fly Fishing Kits & Equipment
Although there is very little gear necessary to get started in Tenkara, there are a few items that may help you on your first outing or to consider in the future. We’ll go over these and a few great kits that include everything you need to get straight out on the water. As stated above, we recommend you invest in an affordable kit to avoid over complicating things and start catching fish as soon as possible.
Tenkara Fly Fishing Kits
There are several different companies producing viable Tenkara kits, but we recommend starting with two of the most reputable: Tenkara USA and the Tenkara Rod Co. While Tenkara USA and its founder Daniel Galhardo are largely credited for popularizing Tenkara in the United States, their gear is a little on the expensive side. That being said, they produce fantastic equipment and customer service that is worth every penny. While you can save a little money by choosing Tenkara Rod Co., it might be worth it to go the extra mile and get a nicer kit from Tenkara USA.
Tenkara Rod Co. Teton Package
The Teton Package by Tenkara Rod Co. is perhaps the most affordable, highest quality Tenkara kit on the market. For more information, check out our write up on it Here. Or, click the link below to view it on Amazon.
Tenkara USA Amago Kit
For a little extra money, the Amago kit adds tremendous value. An Amago fly rod, Tenkara USA Level Line with Tenkara USA Line Keeper and RIO Powerflex Plus Leaders, Ishigaki Kebari Flies, AvidMax Clip-On Retractor with Nippers and AvidMax 5″ Forceps are all included. It’s a pretty big step above the Teton package at a slightly higher cost. If you can afford it, you might consider going with Tenkara USA. It’s definitely worth it.