TENKARA.....FYI For those guys like me that did not know what it was.
Fly Fishing the Way it Used to be
Tenkara is the modern Japanese version of the earliest fly fishing. People have been fly fishing for thousands of years. And for thousands of years, a rod, a line and a fly were all they had - and all they needed.
The fly reel is a relatively modern invention, and it offers some significant advantages - allowing the fisherman to make long casts and allowing a hooked fish to make long runs. With every advance, though, something gets left behind. In fly fishing, what got left behind was the ability to get drag-free drifts in tricky currents by keeping a light line off the water's surface. Also, the direct connection between the angler and the fish was lost, or at least diminished, when fish started pull against the drag instead of the rod.
The Japanese did not invent fly fishing, and very similar styles of "rod-line-fly" fishing existed throughout Europe - and probably throughout much of the world. What is different, though, is that the Japanese did not give up on that simple fishing style after reels were invented or even after reels became common. The simple style also held out in a small area of northwestern Italy, but it is tenkara that has been introduced - or perhaps reintroduced - to the world in the last few years.
Fishing a mountain stream in Japan
In Japan, tenkara was used to fish for trout and charr in small, high gradient mountain streams. For small mountain streams, tenkara really is an ideal way to fish. You don't make long casts and the fish don't make long runs, so you don't need a reel. There are cross currents everywhere and the long rod and light line used in tenkara make it much easier to get a drag-free drift or to keep a fly in an eddy. Because the line is in the air and not on the water, there is no need to mend. There is no excess fly line to step on or get tangled in sticks and snags.
That lack of excess line to manage makes tenkara the easiest way for a beginner to learn fly fishing. It is really pretty intuitive and a complete beginner can pick it up without having to take casting lessons. Plus, the whole emphasis is on the fishing - on presentation rather than immitation. Matching the hatch is not emphasized - and learning latin is absolutely unnecessary! Some tenkara anglers use only one fly pattern, and many use only a handful.
Masaki Nakano, Gallatin R. MT
Tenkara rods are long. Most are 11 to 14.5 feet but there are shorter rods for fishing tight overgrown streams. Despite their length, they are very light, ranging from under 2 ounces up to perhaps 4 ounces for the longest rods. They are also telescopic, and collapse to between 15" and 24", depending on the model. That makes them very easy to transport - whether walking down the trail to the next pool or taking on the plane in your carry-on luggage. They are so supple that they can subdue larger fish than you would expect, and still protect very light tippets. (A couple of the photos on the site are of 20+ inch fish caught on 6X tippets.)
Tenkara lines are usually about the length of the rods, but they are very light - lighter than the lightest fly line. The long rod and light line allow you to keep almost all your line off the water, greatly reducing drag. Reduced drag yeilds better presentation, and better presentations yield more fish.
It is said that the normal progression of a fly fisherman is to go from wanting to catch any fish, to wanting to catch lots of fish, to wanting to catch big fish, to wanting to catch big, challenging, hard to catch fish. Tenkara is for people who have no need to catch big fish either because they have gotten over it or because they have never gotten into it. The pages on this site have photos of surprisingly large fish that have been caught on tenkara rods - so it can be done - it's just not what I think of when I think of tenkara.
There seem to be two schools of thought with respect to tenkara in the Western World. One suggests that tenkara should remain pure and true to the way it is practiced in Japan. The other is that tenkara is a lot of fun, but "tenkara as practiced in Japan" is so narrowly defined that it excludes many of the techniques and fly choices that most Americans, most Westerners really, use with their tenkara rods. The narrow definition also excludes lots of interesting rods - rods that in some cases are better suited to the way we actually fish than "tenkara" rods are.