Tenkara Fly Fishing: Minamalistic Japanese Style of Fishing. Why it’s for you and how to do it

Tenkara USA's Iwana rod with line holder, Black and White


I’ve had a lot of people ask me about Tenkara when they see me fishing with this weird pole, so as an answer, I present to you a guide of everything you need to know to become a Tenkara angler, including general background information, tips, resources, and my favorite instructional videos.

Why Tenkara?

Well, its been around for as long or longer than the traditional Western style of fly fishing, but the knowledge and art of Tenkara has only become accessible to North America in the last few years! There is always more an angler can improve upon by learning about a new technique.

The appeal for me is the simplistic, light weight, and natural qualities of Tenkara. When I am out taking photos, I usually have a heavy backpack full of gear already and don’t have much room for tons of technical fishing gear, too, but with Tenkara, I am able to carry my tripod on one side, and my entire fishing set up in the other easily! Did I mention I can be fishing in under 5 minutes easy between snapping photos?

You can have everything you need to catch a fish in a small tube about 20 inches (~50 cm) long and a small bag with a total outfit weighing only about 10 oz if you only bring the necessities. Also, you can buy everything you need for less than $300, which, mind you, is often the price of a good quality Western style rod, let alone the additional price of a reel and expensive lines compared to a $20 Tenkara line, or better yet, a Tenkara line you made yourself out of horsehair for $12! Sneak your fishing pole and gear in the car underneath the seat at all times or keep an extra pole in  your already full fishing backpack — after all, it doesn’t take up much room! Besides the attraction of such a compact fishing set up, the telescoping nature of the pole makes it easy to both set up and collapse your entire fishing set up without taking off your fly. This allows you to get on the water faster (handy in bad weather or on a time limit!) or collapse your pole quickly and maneuver around that tree-full-of-branches-looking-to-snag-your-line with grace, only to be able to start fishing again in another minute while your buddy is still putting their rod back together and stringing their line while you just hooked another brookie.

Great for backpackers, minimalists, new anglers, kids, or traditional experienced Western anglers looking to try something new!

Learning the basics of the traditional Japanese Tenkara style of fly fishing

Never heard of or tried Tenkara fly fishing at all before? Get a feeling for what it is and how its different than the traditional Western fly fishing set up with a reel in this 5 minute video:

 

 

If you are still interested in getting what you need to fish Tenkara or learning more about it, I would start by reading up on the basic Tenkara gear, techniques, history, and some basics you need to know about how to use you gear and the knots you need here and continue reading below.

 

Everything you need for Tenkara fishing

Now that you’ve got a little knowledge under your belt about what Tenkara is, here is my list of everything you will need to start fishing Tenkara with links of where to purchase the gear online included.

- Rod
– Line
– Line holder
– Tippet
– Flies and something to keep your flies in
– Small bag to hold your flies, tippet, line on its holder, and any other accessories.

ROD:
I got the 12 foot Iwana Tenkara rod as my first starter all around rod from Tenkara USA here.

LINE:
This 10 1/2 foot traditional Tenkara line from Tenkara USA casts well with the Iwana rod

LINE HOLDER:
These line holders here from Tenkara USA are great. Or buy one here. I like to have one for every line I have so I can have different flies already tied on and ready to go, so make sure you buy at least one of these. You can also get creative and make your own out of a moose antler like these ones here!

TIPPET:
I would start with a spool of 6X Tippet which you can get from Tenkara Bum here. Any of them should be okay. You can also pick up some 5X or 6X tippet from your local fly shop. Never use anything stronger than 5X tippet with your Tenkara rod! 5X, 6X, or 7X only! This is so that if you get your fly caught on something and cannot reach it to untangle it, your tippet with break instead of your rod.

The tippet rings that Tenkara bum sells from that same website above or here are also handy, but not necessary.

FLIES:
Now all you need are some flies and a box to put them in. You can start by buying some from your local fly shop or buy some Tenkarastyle flies (or kits to tie your own flies) from Tenkara Bum here. Which flies to use and when to use them is an art and practice all in its own that I won’t go into here! When in doubt, go to your local fly shop, ask them or tell them where you would like to fish, and then have them recommend a hand full of flies that are working well on the local streams and buy at least 3 of each of those.

OTHER ACCESSORIES:
I put everything into a small zippered bag. You can always put your small amount of fishing gear into a backpack or vest with the rest of your things you want for a day on the water (e.g. water, sunscreen, map, camera, etc.)

The only other accessories I use is a fishing net (sometimes), a pair of hemostats to remove hooks really stuck in the fish, a good knife for cleaning your fish or defending yourself against estranged anglers, and a pair of scissors in my Swiss Army tool to cut tippet with. Don’t forget to carry some gallon sized freezer ziplock bags with you in case you catch a fish you’d like to keep or maybe some string to tie up your fish to keep him cold in the water for a bit! There are always additional accessories that are useful. Tenkara Bum recommends and sells all possible accessories you can think of here! If you are fishing without waders, wear some sort of closed toe shoe that you can wade into the water with. I don’t own a pair of waders and go in with shorts or quick drying pants and either a pair of hiking boots with wool socks or a pair of Vibram FiveFinger shoes and I always have a dry change of clothes and shoes waiting for me in the car.

 

Getting to know your Tenkara gear:

As with mastering any new skill, it starts will making sure you know how to properly use your gear.

This is quick video showing you the basics: the types of lines, and how to set up your knots and extend and close the rod. 

Fore more specifics, I would recommend also watching the following videos:

 

How to fish – fishing techniques:

Now that you have your gear and know the basics about how the use it, the hard part (and the fun part!) is learning how use the tools you have to actually catch fish. This is where classic Western fly fishing anglers will find that their experience in casting, knowing how to think like a fish, and fishing techniques applies directly to Tenkara as well.

TenkaraUSA.com  has some videos worth watching here and their website and blog has some great resources as well, so spend some time cruising their website.  TenkaraBum.com also has some great articles and resources on Tenkara techniques here that I would recommend reading.

Here are some of the videos that I’ve found to be informative and helpful in learning the Tenkara style of fly fishing:

Here are some ideas for Tenkara fly casting techniques

 

 

Again, this video here is not Tenkara specific, but some good advise from a fly fishing guide on trout activity stages and how that these relate to better fly fishing

Another non Tenkara specific video with some tips on fishing nymphs in late winter or early spring in mountain streams 

 

Other resources

It can be very rewarding to catch your own fish and keep it for dinner. Make sure you pick up a fishing licence for the state you are fishing in, and pick up a copy of the local fishing regulations and creel limits for the stream you are fishing in or call the local fly shop in town.  If you are ready to go and have a good knife, available sticks, a fire, and a fresh caught fish, here is how to cook and clean your fish. Sesame oil, dill, lemon, salt, and pepper go great with trout!

If you think that a Tenkara rod can only catch small fish, watch this video of someone catching a monstrous 7 pound brown trout on a Tenkara rod to give you more confidence in catching bigger fish

If you still want more, watch this video of someones cold but lucky first Tenkara outing.

And finally, even if you’ve decided Tenkara isn’t for you, here is a 5 minute video to inspire you and motivate you to go on your own fishing adventure:

 

Thanks for reading and I hope that you learned something from my own experiences or maybe even are thinking about getting your first Tenkara rod!

Keep in touch.

Cheers and happy fishing!

 (Allison Pluda)

Yours truly, all my camera gear, and a 14″ brown trout I caught in the Laramie River in Wyoming with my 12′ Iwana rod from Tenkara USA!

Have fun on the water!

 Thanks to Tenkara USA, TenkaraBum, and TenkaraTalk for your continued passion to introduce others to Tenkara and your willingness to share!

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