I was looking forward to Doug Pullen's presentation tonight on Tenkara Fly Fishing. This is one form of fly fishing I definitely want to explore. It is simple, not expensive and the gear is not very extensive. The lousy road conditions kept our students tonight to 15 but I am sure many individuals will take the time to read the excellent presentation that Doug has prepared. The entire text is posted below.
Doug's presentations are always detailed and well prepared. I really appreciate the fact that Doug's seminars are more extensive than only teaching us how to tie some flies. Thanks Doug, as always you broadened our knowledge of fly fishing.
Next week, Bernie Peet is our guest instructor. I believe the theme is damsel flies.
Please consider buying a ticket to our Central Alberta Trout Unlimited Dinner on April 25th. You can contact Doug, Troy, Larry, Colton or Bob for tickets.
We still have 6 spots available for the all day seminar on Dubbing Loops with Philip Rowley. Give Bob a call if you want to attend.
See you next week!
Tenkara Fly Fishing
There is a saying, “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault. They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt.
(Kipling’s Ballad of East and West)
To-night we’re going to talk about a different way to fly fish; a way that began in the east and is migrating westward. You will discover an approach that forces you to concentrate on the fish and its habitat and not on the fishing gear that we all hold so dear.
This alternate way to western style fly fishing is called Tenkara.
The name Tenkara means "from heaven" or "from the skies". It is believed that the word came about because of the way a fly softly lands on the water, and if looked from a fish point of view, it would be slowly descending from the skies.
Tenkara is a traditional Japanese method of fixed line fly fishing that uses a long light rod with a length of line attached to a single fly. There are no guides, no extra line and no reel. This is a true minimalist approach to fly fishing. The words from Kipling’s Ballard of East and West reflects the different philosophies when looking at traditional Tenkara and North American fishing practices, but things are changing. Many Japanese fishermen are adopting some western methods and North Americans are embracing certain aspects of Tenkara fly fishing.
Tenkara is a method of fly fishing and is particularly well suited for fishing mountain streams but it has also has been used successfully in other fish habitats. Tenkara is a very effective, simple and an enjoyable method of fly fishing. The main advantage is its simplicity. But the benefits of Tenkara go well beyond simple: delicate presentations with a light line, the ability to hold the line off the water and place the fly over difficult currents, precise casting and greater control of the fly are just a few of the benefits that Tenkara offers.
Who invented Tenkara? No one really knows for sure. It was originally developed by the commercial anglers in the mountainous regions of Japan who used the technique to secure food and not as a form of leisure or sport. They developed techniques that were successful using very minimal tackle because they were very poor. Most anglers only used one fly no matter where they fished. We do not know for sure when Tenkara was first developed because most of the early commercial fishermen were illiterate so no records were kept. Being that they were fishing for a living, they didn’t feel the need the write about their daily activities. Fly fishing in Japan has been practiced as far back as the 8th century B.C. Historians have roughly determined that Tenkara was first developed between 400 to 500 hundred years ago. The first reference to Tenkara fly fishing was recorded in 1878 by Ernest Satow, who was an English diplomat who lived in Japan. He described in his diary an angler fishing using a long bamboo rod with a single fly.
To-day, fishermen from all over the world are taking up Tenkara; but in Japan, it is only practiced in a few remote locations. Bait, lure and the more popular western style of fly fishing is the more predominant. The early principals of using only one fly have been embraced by purist Tenkara fly fishermen while most carry an array of different flies in their fly boxes. The bottom line is there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to Tenkara. Each person has to embrace their own style of Tenkara.
Recently the Orvis company has recognized that Tenkara is attracting anglers all over the world and has begun to work this method of fly fishing into their business plan.
Let’s talk about the key elements that form the foundation that Tenkara is built upon. They are a Rod, a Fly Line, a small section of Tippet material, a fly and Presentation. Each piece is important and when put together, it spells success.
Originally, Tenkara rods were made from bamboo. There are only a few Tenkara rod makers that still use bamboo. The work required to manufacture a bamboo Tenkara rod is quite substantial. The biggest challenge is finding the correct size and quality of bamboo: it is very time consuming and very expensive to manufacture and repair.
Modern Tenkara rods are made of carbon-fibre material. There are a variety of rods available to the Tenkara angler today. Different types of streams may require a different rod to fish it effectively. Streams vary in width, some have more vegetation along their banks or overhead; even the depth may vary considerably. The length of today’s Tenkara rods varies from 10’ to 15’that are typically telescopic in design. Unlike multiple piece rods, all sections of a Tenkara rod telescope into the handle which adds protection against breakage when not using the rod. Typically you use the longest rod you can for the type of streams that you are fishing. Narrow streams with lots of overhead cover would demand a short rod. Larger streams with little or no overhead cover require a longer rod. A long rod will allow a longer reach and keep more line off the water. Anglers even have a choice between soft or stiffer rods; this is based on personal preference of the angler. The size of fish will also affect your rod choice; the larger fish require a rod with more back bone. Tenkara rods are not designed for the really large fish like Steelhead or Carp; however Trout in the 18”-20” range are ok. Tenkara rods are not classified by a weight class as are normal western style fly rods. You are casting very light lines. If you wanted to put a weight class to a Tenkara rod, it would closely parallel a 1 to a 4 weight class in a western style fly rod. Tenkara lends itself nicely to back packing because modern Tenkara rods telescope down to 20” in length.
Some people believe Tenkara is similar to cane pole fishing. The answer is; it is and it isn’t. The similarities between the two systems are that they both use a rod, line and a hook on the end of the line. However, that is where the similarities end. Tenkara is much more like fly fishing than cane pole fishing. With Tenkara, you have to cast the line. Cane poles were typically heavy and very stiff in nature that would cast heavy terminal tackle. Once you swung your bobber and baited hook, you would let it sit there until a fish came along. With Tenkara you have to know how to cast your line out. Because the fly is basically weightless, the cast you make will allow the line to move and carry the fly to the target. Tenkara requires a shorter casting stroke and your stops have to be better to allow the very light line to travel without piling up. Cane poles do not relay on a taper design where Tenkara rods do. Even in the very early days, the Japanese commercial fisherman selected their bamboo to obtain the correct taper that was necessary to effectively cast very light lines. In other words, Tenkara incorporates the simplicity of cane pole fishing combined with the eloquence of fly flying.
Cost of modern Tenkara rods range from $150-$250.
A Tenkara fly line is very different than a fly line used in western style fly fishing. Lines made for Tenkara are specifically made for Tenkara. There are 2 types of lines that can be used; they are a traditional Tenkara line or a Tenkara level line. Never mix the two lines together. Traditional lines have a furled construction and are made from monofilament or a fibre based material and are super easy to cast because they have a little more mass to cast. These lines are made to cast in perfect balance with Tenkara rods with power and precision with a very delicate presentation. It almost casts by itself. The disadvantage of these traditional lines is that they are a fixed length, usually 10.5’ or 13‘in length.
Level lines are made from fluorocarbon material which follows a special formula that is manufactured specifically for Tenkara. Stiffness, density, mass, the correct level of memory of the line and high visibility are considered. Visibility is important so you know when your line is at all times. The length of level lines is determined by the angler depending on the size of the stream being fished and the length of rod being used. Level lines require more acceleration not force especially on the back cast to effectively deliver the fly to the target.
The end of the rod has a short section of braided material with a knot tied at the end of it acting like a stopper. Both types of lines are attached to this braided section of material. The traditional line uses a simple girth hitch which is slipped onto the braided material and cinched down. The level line is attached to the braided material using a simple slip knot which is also cinched down on the braided material.
The line has to be light enough so that no matter how long the line is, it will stay off the water. If the line is too heavy, it will sag and then the currents with impact drag imparting an unnatural movement on the fly. Therefore there has to be a balance to achieve a line that is easy to cast and easy to stay off the water.
The beginner to Tenkara should is better off using a shorter line. Example: If you have a 12’ rod, 10.5’ line and 4’ tippet. When you have more experience you can lengthen the line. Example: 13’ rod, 20’to 35’ of line and 4’ of tippet. The longer lines require you to learn more control as well as being able to land fish.
The cost of Tenkara lines are about $20 each.
No leaders are required; just the main line (traditional or level line) and 4’ of 5x or 6x tippet. You can use monofilament or fluorocarbon tippet material depending on how deep you want your fly in be in the water column. Attach the tippet using a loop to loop connection. You can also put a simple overhand knot at the end of the line and use a perfection loop which is slid over the knot and tighten down This achieves a slip knot connection. This way does not have to permanently attach the lines together and avoiding permanent loops at the end of the lines avoiding tangles or snagged. All the knots used in Tenkara are simple in nature.
The simplicity of Tenkara fishing is also present in the flies used. Tenkara often focuses on the techniques of presenting the fly rather than the appearance of a particular pattern. The idea of giving life to a fly by motion makes Tenkara flies very versatile and effective. One of the most recognizable fly patterns are the reverse hackle flies called Sakasa Kebari Presentation.
Tenkara removes the more intimidating aspects of western fly fishing some of which are long distance casting and the management of a lot of line whether on or off the water. Tenkara reduces fly fishing to a very simple form.
Tenkara, like western style fly fishing, has some basic casting technique involved to cast the fly to a target. Instead of the usual 10-2 o'clock approach, Tenkara tends to require a shorter stroke (10-12 o'clock) while using a little more wrist. Keep the arm close to the body to avoid fatigue and for better control of the rod. Grip the handle as close to the end of the handle as possible which will give you a greater lever and casting will be more effortless. Lead the cast with the arm on the back cast, moving the arm up a couple of inches, then break the wrist to make the rod load in its entirety. On the forward cast, move the arm back down a couple of inches and break the wrist slightly to unload the rod. The cast requires very little effort, even with long lines. You need a well-defined stop and your wrist must be relaxed at the end of the cast to allow the arm to absorb the rod oscillation and make the line stretch forward. Unlike western style casting methods, Tenkara basically uses a simple overhead cast. Rather than casting the line parallel to the water’s surface, you use a steeple cast where you shoot the line high behind you and then shoot your line into a target on the water. You can also use a side arm cast if the stream conditions restrict a high back cast. You have to accelerate and stop; if too much power is used with a stiff wrist, the line will just wiggle and not turn over. Remember, this is a relaxed cast. Don’t be afraid to use your wrist, very countered to western fly casting techniques. Tenkara should be very intuitive, don’t over think the cast. Often times, kids with little or no experience with cast will pick up casting with a Tenkara rod much quicker than an experienced caster having a western fly casting background because the line is attached to the end of the rod, you have to use angle and distance to manipulate the line to where you want the fly to be and also the land a fish.
With western style fly fishing, the weight of the line helps load the rod to propel the fly to its target. With Tenkara, the line is almost weightless therefore the end of the rod which is very fine; this feature together with leverage and the progressive taper of the rod is what cast the line.
When fishing Tenkara flies, they are fished only a few inches below the surface. The original Tenkara fishermen did not change their flies, they only changed their presentation. This was the same philosophy that Lee Wulff used in his fishing life. Examples of this would be fishing the flies using a dead drift; the line is entirely off the water with the fly located a few inches below the surface. Then you could cast your fly a little upstream and pulsate your fly so it is moving up and down in the water column. Another method to pause and drift, pause and drift the fly. You could even pull it up stream or pull it to shore like a streamer. This illustrates the amount of control that you can achieve with a long rod with a fixed length of line and being able to manipulate the fly which is totally different to that of western fly fishing.
Now the fun part begins; landing a fish that took your fly.
Keep your arm close to your body the whole time. This will allow you to have more control over the fish. Angle the rod back to fight the fish while bringing the fish into calmer water to net it. When using a longer line, you will need to hand-line the fish in. Do it steadily and calmly to minimize stress on the fish.
If you embrace Tenkara from a purist perspective, you only use rod, line, tippet and fly. The flies are unweighted, you don’t use floatant, you don’t use strike indicators are split shots.
There are two trains of thought when considering Tenkara. There is Tenkara “The Tool” and there is Tenkara “The Method”. Essentially the tool of Tenkara is the rod, line, tippet and fly; what you add to this is up to the angler. These may include nymph type flies, dry flies, the use of fly floatant or strike indicators. If you like to Czech Nymph or use a dry dropper method, that’s ok. Therefore Tenkara the tool is tailored to a western fly fishing approach. Conversely, Tenkara the method embraces the simplest form of Tenkara; the approach that the Japan commercial fly fisherman used 400 to 500 years ago, only rod, line, tippet and one unweighted fly.
Persons who prefer traditional Tenkara fishing say that the traditional Tenkara flies have advantages over other types of flies. These flies have a reverse hackle which points forward beyond the eye of the hook. The theory behind this is when the fly is fished in moving water; the hackle does not brush against the body of the fly and disappear. It will maintain more body in the currents. Also when you pulsate the fly, the hackle will open and close which is very attractive to fish. The fly looks really alive in the water. Also this action anchors the fly in the water column so the fly doesn’t come flying out of the water. These flies are also super quick to tie. Unlike western style flies where you finish the fly at the hook eye, Tenkara traditional flies are finished at the rear of the hook; therefore no problems associated to crowding of the eye.
Focus on the simplicity of Tenkara. Don't over think your casting. Minimize the flies you use. Practice, Practice, Practice. Most importantly, have fun.
Thank you and Tight Lines
Doug Pullen photo
Pheasant Tail Sakasa Kebari
Hook: Daiichi 1150 size 12
Thread: 6/0 Dark Brown
Hackle: Hen Pheasant (upper back feather)
Ribbing: Fine Copper Wire
Body: Pheasant Tail Fibers
Doug Pullen photo
Royal Sakasa Kebari
Hook: Daiichi 1150 size #12
Thread: 8/0 black
Hackle: Grey Partridge (breast feather)
Body: Peacock Herl - Red Floss - Peacock Herl
Doug Pullen photo
Sulfur Emerger Takayama Kebari
Hook: Daiichi 1150 size #12
Thread: 8/0 Lt. Cahill
Hackle: Grey Partridge (breast feather)
Collar: Peacock Herl
Body: 8/0 Lt. Cahill