Unless you have been “off the grid” or living in a cave for the last several years you certainly have heard of Tenkara fishing, a type of fly fishing that originated in the Orient and uses a collapsible rod and a fixed length of line. It resembles the type of fishing that many of us practiced when we were kids; a cane pole with a length of line attached to the tip. It is basic fishing 101.
I obtained a Tenkara rod, or more correctly some FAOL readers sent the Ladyfisher a new Tenkara rod so that she might be able to do some fly fishing despite her bad shoulders. Unfortunately, even the minimal casting strokes that are necessary to use a Tenkara rod proved too much for her rotator cuff damaged shoulders so I got to experiment with it.
Some basic research revealed that it is possible to use a line that is longer than the rod; in fact it’s possible to use a line that is over twice the length of the rod. Since the rod that I was using was nearly twelve feet long I could use a line that was twenty four feet long plus a leader. With the reach of the rod that would allow me to cast nearly forty feet. However I decided to use a shorter line. I made a line slightly longer than the rod plus the leader that would allow me to make a cast of about twenty-five feet.
My research indicated that the idea behind Tenkara fishing is to keep the line off the water and just place the fly and a minimal amount of leader in contact with the water. This allows the angler to manipulate the fly in a natural manner. My interest was to use the Tenkara rod to fish dry flies on the surface and emergers just below the film on the local spring creeks.
By watching videos online I was able to see how to cast with the rod. The casting stroke is shorter than the one used for standard fly casting. The arm is held next to the body and you use the forearm to lift the rod but you use the wrist to snap the cast forward and backward. You stop the rod higher on the forward cast and drop the fly on water keeping the line off the water. Once the casting method is mastered it is possible to cast the fly quite accurately. To keep the line off the water the rod is held in a more horizontal plane in reference to the water.
Since the outfit has a fixed length of line it is necessary to pick your fish and to determine how to get in position to present your fly without spooking the fish. The longer rod and the fixed length of line permits you to control the presentation with greater control than you can accomplish using standard fly fishing gear. It has long been my belief that the key to successful fly fishing is presentation and the Tenkara method of fishing allows greater control over how the fly is presented.
It’s apparent that the Tenkara style of fishing was originally developed to fish primarily freestone type streams, and most of the videos that I have watched showed anglers fishing broken water. In addition, many of the videos show the fly hitting the water very hard. In one video a Tenkara master angler suggested that it was necessary to hit the water with the fly to attract the attention of the fish. This was then repeated several times in the same location and the angler imparted a jerking motion to the fly before picking it up and casting it back to the same spot. Obviously this was a wet fly method which certainly would be productive in riffles and pocket water around rocks.
Using the Tenkara rod to target specific fish on clear water streams and smooth flats requires a more measured approach and greater stealth with a far more delicate delivery. By stopping the cast high above the water and allowing the fly to drop to the surface it is possible to deliver a dry fly quite precisely to a specific target and control the drift quite effectively. Since only the fly and a very small amount of leader are actually permitted to land on the surface, drag can be nearly eliminated especially when the fly is presented just a short distance above the intended target. With practice the cast can be repeated several times without spooking the fish.
Using the Tenkara method of fly fishing using dry flies and emergers on spring creek type streams requires the angler to slow down and contemplate each angling situation. To this end it provides a very valuable tool in educating the angler about the need to observe and evaluate what exactly is happening. The importance of presentation; making the artificial act like the natural, is quickly realized as the most important aspect of successful fly fishing. When good presentation is combined with an artificial imitation that represents the general size and shape of the natural food source angling success rates increase, and that is the objective that most anglers are seeking.
Tenkara style angling reinforced many of the beliefs that I have developed over my many years of fly fishing. Shorter, more controlled casts, shorter drifts over rising fish, and a more orderly approach to each intended target is the recipe for success. Although I enjoyed the challenge of learning how to use the Tenkara rod for fishing on spring creek type waters and learning the lessons that it could teach me it will not become my standard fly fishing method. I still enjoy casting and using my traditional fly rods and reels. Tenkara style fly fishing has become another enjoyable facet in the wonderful sport of fly fishing.