Ultimate Guide to Tenkara Fishing

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Fly fishing is a complex type of fishing with various gears and flies and tackle. One form of fly fishing has caught a lot of attention and that is tenkara fishing. In this article, you will learn about things related to tenkara fishing to help you get started. 

Ultimate Guide to Tenkara Fishing

Tenkara fishing is known for its simple yet effective method of fishing. It originated from the mountains of Japan where people fish in the freshwater mountain streams for trout and other fish. 

Closeup of a man holding a tenkara fishing rod

Because of globalization, tenkara fishing has made its way in the western fishing community and embraced it. Today, tenkara fishing is a hobby and some people even compete in it as a sport.   

What Is Tenkara Fishing?

As stated before, tenkara fishing is a method of fly fishing that originated from the mountains of Japan. After being rediscovered by the Japanese, it has now spread around the world and is embraced into a modern pastime for many people. 

Tenkara fishing uses very long rods with fixed lengths of casting lines attached to the rod-tip. The rods generally have simple yet remarkable wet fly patterns. Generally, tenkara anglers attach only one fly at a time to the tippet.    

Tenkara is a shortening of “tenkara-tsuri” which translates to “fly fishing” in the traditional mountain-dwelling communities of Japan’s Tohoku region. It was formally named tenkara in the  1980s with the effort of Yuzo Sebata. Tenkara was made famous through the Japanese Fishing magazine called “Tsuribito”.

Why Use Tenkara?

Most people that got drawn in and became tenkara anglers are fascinated by the unique method of fly fishing and its simplicity and effectiveness. Long tenkara rods allow you to cast accurately and to drift without drag. This simple method is great for fly fishing beginners. 

Compared to modern fly fishing, tenkara fishing rods don’t have a reel. The fishing line is tied directly to the tip of the rod. The rod has a flexible tip that can comfortably absorb the struggle of a fighting fish. 

Tenkara fishing also uses your intuitive nature allowing you to know more about your environment. Learning how to cast takes a long time in most fly fishing methods. However, it will only take you minutes to learn tenkara fishing. You also get to learn how to read streams for trout. 

Getting Fish With Tenkara Line

People often believe that it’s effective to use a line the same length as the rod. It is effective though for accuracy and control. You still want a long line to cover more distance and depth. It may seem difficult, however, once you try it’s easy. 

  1. You need to be good at catching the line as you draw back the rod tip over your shoulder. 
  2. Maintain your hold on the handle while pointing the rod behind you. 
  3. Grab forward with your “non-rod” hand and sweep the rod sideways onto the line so your pinky finger makes contact with the line. Close your fingers onto the line.
  4. Bring your rod hand towards your other hand holding the line while still holding the rod handle.
  5. You can now draw the line using both your hands. Your non-rod hand drawing in the line while your rod hand catching the line while still holding the rod handle. 

If you want visual instructions, here’s a video from Tenkara USA to help you land fish.  

Tenkara flies

Tenkara Fishing Gear

You can’t fish without your fishing gear. While tenkara fishing is a traditional fishing method, it still requires some fishing gear. You can choose to use the traditional tenkara fishing rods or tenkara fishing rods with some improvements like ergonomics and durability. 

Tenkara Rod

Tenkara rods are well-appreciated by a lot of anglers because they only need minimal equipment. They don’t have a real and have better portability especially if you’re out hiking and backpacking in nature. 

Tenkara rods can come in different lengths and some are modified to be adjustable. Most anglers agree that the longer the rod, the better your chances of catching a fish in the river, streams, and ponds. Shorter rods can also be useful for smaller bodies of water.  

The rod also generally includes a progressive taper. This is usually lightweight and responsive so you get better feedback when you get a catch. 

What to Get?

Most tenkara anglers use rods with a bulky backbone so they can handle bigger fish. You can carry multiple tenkara rods if you can handle them. However, if you can only bring one, it’s recommended to get an all-around adjustable tenkara rod for any body of water. 

Tenkara Line

Tenkara lines are specifically designed so anglers can cast a lightweight fly effectively. Tenkara lines don’t have a leader and are instead replaced by a tippet. It’s a thin line between the fly and tenkara line. 

The features you should look for in a tenkara line are visibility and weight which also applies to the tenkara rod. The line should be visible so you can track it easily. The snippet should not be too visible so fish won’t detect it. 

For weight, you want it to be heavy enough for casting and at the same time light enough to not get into the water when the fly lands. Too heavy, and the line sinks. Too light, and it will be hard for you to cast.

What to Get?

The type of line depends on your preference in the end. Tenkara lines are usually fixed. However, you can change the fishing line into a shorter or longer one if needed. You have control over the weight. The visibility should be the most important one for you to consider. 

Tenkara Fly

When it comes to tenkara fly, you can choose one whatever you prefer. In tenkara, it’s more about technique so the fly doesn’t really matter. Instead, you should focus more on how you make use of the fly. 

Do take note that the larger the fly, the easier it is for fish to spot it. So you should choose a smaller one if you can. 

Tenkara Rod Maintenance

Once you get your own tenkara fishing rod, you should also learn how to take care of it so it can be used for a long time. Tenkara rods are easy to maintain. Here are some tips that you can follow for maintaining your tenkara fishing rod. 

Tenkara fishing rod and tools
  • Never store your rod while it is still wet from the rain or stream. The water can make the finish on the surface bubble and spoil. Water also wears away some parts of the rod like the grit inside  the rod sections. 
  • Handle the tenkara rod with care when you’re dealing with its fine sections. For example, using too much tissue could easily leave a piece of the tissue stuck and it might be hard to remove. You will do extra work in the end.
  • Dry your tenkara fishing rod in a well ventilated place at your home. 
  • You can wash the rod sections using a bathroom shower. After washing, you can lay it in an area where air is flowing to dry it off. 
  • Make sure your tenkara fishing rod is completely dry so it won’t be wet when you store it when not in use.  

Tenkara Fishing Techniques

Tenkara fishing techniques usually follow the traditional Japanese method of fishing. Some anglers also incorporate and try new things with their tenkara rods. We’ll discuss some of the core basic techniques of tenkara fishing. 

Tenkara Casting

For first-time tenkara anglers, the casting is where they mostly stumble. Most beginners often use the same casting stroke as they would in a fly rod and fly line. However, tenkara rods are different. Some manufacturers did modify their tenkara rods to retain the “normal” of casting when fly fishing. 

However, it won’t be effective when you are tenkara fishing. The casting method of tenkara allows you to land the fly closely to your target spot and you can also hold the casting line off the water. These things are crucial for tenkara fishing. 

The Proper Way of Casting

You need the tenkara to be casted at an angle diagonally downwards towards the water. The casting stroke should be short and quick yet not too much power. Squeezing the rod handle midway in your casting stroke allows you to control the power. Relax the grip as you stop so it won’t rebound to you. 

Don’t use a wide arc and horizontal loops of good fly-casting. You also don’t need to correct the position of your line once it’s cast. You’ll just end up scaring the fish. 

Drifting With Your Fly

Basically, you want to entice your fly so the fish will take the bait. Developing your fly first cast is important. Allowing your fly, tippet, casting line to go downstream will make it look natural and hungry fish will highly take it. (only applicable to flowing bodies of water like streams)

Most streams, you should ideally have a drift time of only 3 to 5 seconds. The more time, the more the fish will notice your fly and get spooked.

Detecting Strikes During Tenkara Fishing

If you start fishing with an unweighted fly, it’s easier to spot since the fish have to move high in the water to grab it. Some anglers even use floatant to a stiff hackle wet fly and fishing “dry” for beginners to have an easier experience. 

In the end, as long as you are able to track the drift correctly with your rod tip and eyes, you can see the moment when a fish grabs your fly. Personally, we recommend this method if you want to immerse yourself in the traditional way of tenkara fishing. 

Japanese Tenkara Fishing

Let’s take a look at Japanese Tenkara Fishing and how modern Japanese make use of modern techniques to improve their traditional way of fishing. Since Japan is the birthplace of Tenkara fishing, people there should know a trick or two about it. 

Man fishing at a river

In fact, Japanese anglers adopted methods around American bass fishing to improve their technique. Hence, different styles of fishing shouldn’t be frowned upon because you might find something useful in their method for your fishing style. 

Tenkara Fishing Rod vs Tenkara Fishing Method

A tenkara rod isn’t exclusively for tenkara fishing use. You can use it for other types of fishing as well. Hence, Japanese put more emphasis on Tenkara Fishing Technique instead of the rod used for catching. 

To Japanese anglers, tenkara is the culmination of your knowledge and technique poured into catching fish with artificial flies. People asked more often what technique a tenkara angler uses rather than what rod he uses. 

It’s all about the immersion and honing your raw skill of fishing while being in nature. Like how our ancestors used to fish for food and survival, we have inherited their skills and improved upon it. 

FAQ

Is Tenkara Easier Than Fly Fishing?

Simplicity in fishing means you have to rely more on technique rather than your gear. There is no definitive answer to which is easier. Some anglers argue that tenkara is easier because the learning curve is easy while others argue western fly fishing is easier because of the gear you’re using. 

Can You Catch Big Fish With Tenkara?

Tenkara rods are able to catch big fish like bass, salmon, carp, and most big fish in between. If you want to catch a big fish, make sure your tenkara rod has a sturdy and bulky backbone. 

How Old Is Tenkara?

The first evidence of Tenkara fishing can be traced back more than 400 years. Japanese anglers were using unsplit bamboo rods tipped with horsehair lines tied to fly patterns to catch cherry trouts. 

What Does Tenkara Mean in Japanese?

Tenkara is a narrowly defined word. Some people interpret it as “fishing from heaven” or “fishing from the skies”. Other people interpret it as the simple definition of “mountain stream fly-fishing with only a rod, line, and fly”. 

Conclusion

Tenkara fishing is a no reel fishing method that originated from Japan. It’s one of the most immersive styles of fishing you can experience. You will rely more on your technique and instinct rather than your fishing gear.