Tenkara is breathtakingly simple, a delight in terms of minimalist gear and ease of use, and an easy piece of kit to pack along in the car or on a hike. Most people purchase a tenkara rod because they are already anglers, but a good number of people get them because they were always intrigued by fly fishing but never wanted to go all out in learning about knots, rods, and all the ephemera that surrounds the fly fishing world. However you ended up purchasing a tenkara rod, and however much experience you have on the water, there are a few things that every tenkara rod owner should think about. Check out these tips and maybe you can avoid some rookie mistakes with your gear.
Tenkara Rods Are Really Long
I can hear you now. “Thanks, smart guy.” But I’ll tell you right now that when you’ve spotted a pod of rising trout on the other side of a bank of tamarisk you’ll forget that your rod is twelve to fourteen feet long, and that’s how you’ll get your rod tip and line hopelessly tangled in and around every single branch within sight. If it’s not that then you’ll get it tangled trying to walk through a stand of trees, or when you’re standing mid-stream and don’t realize that there are low branches overhead.
There are two things to learn early on in your tenkara career: always inspect your fore-and back-cast before condemning your line and fly to the trees, and practice breaking down your rod and spooling your line. Inspecting your cast is self-explanatory. If you take a second to look for low branches, bushes, etc., then you are less likely to get caught up in them. Remember, twelve feet of line plus twelve feet of rod means you have almost twenty-five feet of reach to get yourself hopelessly tangled. If you practice collapsing your rod and spooling line then you can do it in literal seconds. That helps you get through the tamarisk easily without getting tangled. Then you can expand the rod and cast to those rising trout without skipping a beat. Seriously, practice breaking down and extending your rod a few times. It’ll help once you’re on the water.
You Don’t Have to Use Kebari
Kebari are beautiful flies and have a rich history and heritage within the Japanese tenkara community. They are also a fun style of fly to tie, lend themselves well to beginning fly tyers, and afford a whole bunch of freedom of expression in designing them. They also work stunningly well. But just because you own a tenkara rod you do not need to be bound by tenkara tradition.
The most commonly used flies when I have my tenkara rod in hand are a classic peacock and partridge wet fly or an elk hair caddis. Use the flies that you trust and that you know work on your home streams. Whether that’s Parachute Adams, beadhead Copper Johns, or foam hoppers, they will all work just fine. Don’t feel like joining the tenkara club means that you are restricted to the Single Fly philosophy. The Single Fly lifestyle is fun and really proves that you maybe don’t need all of those fly boxes, but if that approach ruins your day then stick with what you trust and like.
It Is All About That Drag-Free Drift.
One of the best things about tenkara fishing is that you can achieve a beautiful drag-free drift. However, if you’re not careful you can still splash your line, get the fly dragged through currents, and spook fish with poor drifts. The trick is to keep as much line off the water as you can, and to do that you need an appropriately sized line and some good technique.
I start with level line that is as long as my rod or one foot longer. Any more than that and I find it very difficult to get the drift that I want. When I cast I try to keep the stopper knot between the level line and the tippet just on top of the water with the tippet and fly below it. That ensures that only the tippet is really touching the water. You then have a very delicate presentation in front of spooky trout, and you have no extra line dragging through the current and fouling your drift. It takes a bit of practice, but this extra effort can make all the difference. If you’re having trouble getting used to this tactic, or have trouble seeing where the level line ends, you can attach a small Palsa foam indicator immediately above the stopper knot so you have something to see. That will help you keep all the line above that indicator off the water and the lightweight indicator usually won’t spook fish.
Written by Sam Larson
Sam Larson lives, writes, ties flies, and fishes in Colorado’s Front Range. He likes brookie streams, fiberglass rods, and books about fly fishing. He has been published in Tenkara Magazine and Tenkara Angler and is the founder and content creator for www.bluelinesfly.com. Follow Sam on Instagram here: @bluelinesflyfishing
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Let’s hear some of your thoughts in the comments! What tips do you have for tenkara fly fishing?