Neil Travis - Aug 13, 2012

Catching fish with a rod and line is basically quite a simple task, but one must first secure the basic equipment, which is really quite rudimentary. A shaft 8 to 10 feet should be adequate for most angling, but longer shafts may be necessary when angling on larger streams. The shaft should not be too supple or too stiff. The base should fit comfortably in the hand being neither too thick nor too thin. The angler may wish to make his own shaft or one may be purchased from a seller of angling paraphernalia.

After the angler has secured a rod of proper length he will need a line of proper length for his rod. The line should be the same length of the rod or slightly longer, and is attached to the rod at the tip. This may be accomplished by securing the line to the tip of the rod using a simple slip knot arrangement. The angler may wish to inscribe a groove in the uppermost tip of the rod, making certain not to weaken the rod at this point, so that the line will not slip off the end of the rod when playing a fish. Rods purchased from a seller of angling paraphernalia may have a ring or some other device at the tip of the rod where the line may be attached. At one time the line would have been made of horse hair, but unless you have a ready access to a horse and the time to braid up a line you will probably want to use a modern substitute. A length of monofilament or braided Dacron will serve the purpose. You will need to attach a short length of leader material to the end of your line so you can attach your hook and you are ready to go fishing.

This is a multi-purpose rod; capable of allowing the angler to fish with both bait and artificial flies. If you choose to use a fly it need not be complicated and even a simple pattern consisting of thread and hackle will suffice. You might try a dun fly, which consists of dun colored wool with wings of partridge quill and partridge hackle. A shell fly might be a good choice. It consists of a green wool body ribbed with peacock herl and wings from a buzzard quill. [See Book of St. Albans, The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle, Dame Juliana Berners, Copyright 1496]

This same manuscript contains the following advice about how to fish:

"And for the principal point of angling, always keep yourself away from the water and from the sight of the fish – far back on the land or else behind a bush or tree – so that the fish may not see you. For if he does, he will not bite. And take care that you do not shadow the water any more than you can help, for that is a thing which will frighten the fish, and if he is frightened, he will not bite for a good while afterward.

When the fish bites, that you be not too hasty to smite him, nor too late. You must wait till you suppose that the bait and the hook are well into the mouth of the fish, and then strike him. For the float: when it seems to you to be pulled softly under the water or else carried softly upon the water, then smite him. And see that you never oversmite the strength of your line, lest you break it. And if you happen to hook a great fish with a small line, you must lead him in the water and labor there, until he is overcome and wearied. Then take him as well as you can, and beware that you do not hold beyond the strength of your line. And if you can avoid it at all, do not let him go out on the end of the line straight ahead of you, but keep him always under the rod, and always hold him strait. Thus you can sustain his leaps and his dives with the help of your hand."

Back to Basics
Dame Juliana aka The Ladyfisher using a Tenkara Rod

If you were to take the time and read through The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle you might be surprised at how modern and up-to-date much of the information appears to be. The rods that they were used in those days, and for over a century after it was written, are very similar to the Tenkara rods that are current becoming popular, and even the flies they used are very similar to the type of flies that are used with these modern rods.

In fact, having examined the literature surrounding Tenkara fishing and the techniques that are employed I find it very similar to the descriptions found in the very earliest fly fishing literature. Tenkara angling is modern minimalism carried to the nth degree. Angling paraphernalia consists of a rod, line, leader and imitation. Like the earliest fly fishers, anglers that use Tenkara gear use a rod that does not have a reel or guides. The line is affixed to the tip of the rod, and the length of the cast is determined by the length of the line that is thus affixed. The fish is played exclusively by using the rod and the strength of the line becomes a critical issue when engaging a large fish. Since the rod does not have a reel when the fish runs, especially if it is a larger fish, the angler must pursue the fish on foot or risk breaking either the line or the rod. To land a fish you raise your rod high over your head and pull the fish toward you. Some Tenkara anglers use a net and others simply land the fish with their hands. This is about a basic as you can get.

I do not believe that Tenkara fishing will ever replace traditional western-style fly fishing, but it is a reminder of how uncomplicated fly fishing can really be. I sense that the popularity of this sport is a reaction to the complexity and expense of what passes as fly fishing in our modern era. When was the last time you started out on a fishing trip with only a rod, line, leader and a small box of flies?

Editor's Note
For more information on Tenkara fishing check out Tenkara Bum, one of our FAOL sponsors -

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