Lefty on tenkara

One of fly fishing's greatest voices offers his thoughts on tenkara
Lefty Kreh Fishing Trail
Lefty gives a (conventional, not tenkara) casting demonstration to a group including former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley at the dedication of the Lefty Kreh Fishing trail (photo: Jay Baker).

Last July at the International Fly Tackle Dealer show I had the chance to sit down with Lefty Kreh and talk tenkara. Visiting with Lefty is one of the great experiences in fly fishing. Despite all of his notoriety, he is generous with his time and a very entertaining raconteur. His wealth and breadth of fly fishing history and knowledge are astonishing.

As I sat chatting about tenkara with him, I was struck by his genuine interest in the method and how he sees it in the larger fly fishing world.

One fly? Maybe not.

We talked a bit about how tenkara has been both marketed and portrayed and it was clear that he doesn't have a lot of patience with the "one fly only" crowd, a position we have in common. He suggested that the notion that a tenkara rod and one fly was always going to bring about a satisfying fly fishing experience was overblown.

"If someone buys one tenkara rod, uses only one fly, and doesn't catch fish — they are going to be disappointed. Tenkara is a technique; you have to learn a procedure or technique and use it properly," Kreh said.

A man's got to know his limitations

He also was concerned that the tenkara style of fly fishing not be oversold. He pointed out there are limitations with tenkara, just as there are with any other type of fishing gear or approach. We all know it makes no sense to fish for brook trout in mountain streams with a Spey rod.

"I think we need to make people aware that there are limitations to tenkara just like any other kind of tackle," he said.

That said, he was quick to point how well it works in the right scenarios.

"In trout fishing, if the water is moving and you can keep the fly moving at the same speed as the current, you catch trout. Tenkara is absolutely the finest way to trout fish in something like that," Kreh said.

"There isn't one thing that is going to do everything. Basically, that is the way I feel about tenkara."

A great gateway to fly-fishing

I asked Lefty if he thought tenkara could be a way to bring more newcomers into the sport of fly fishing.

"I think it has the potential to add a lot of anglers to the fly fishing world. Fly fishing isn't about catching a lot of fish. It's about reading about it, learning about the insects if you are a trout fisherman or learning about the tides if you are a saltwater fisherman. It's learning to select the right tackle and learning to tie the flies," said Kreh.

"After they start catching fish, a lot of people are going to want to taste more than just the appetizer or the first course," he said. "They are going to want to do more; they are going to want to catch bonefish, or striped bass or albacore. So now they are going to have to go to a rod, they are going to have to go to a reel, and they may tenkara fish in some area, and that is what I am thinking is going to happen. They are going to use tenkara where it ought to be fished."

"I think eventually a lot of people that get into tenkara are going to find there is more to it than catching fish and decide ‘I'm going to become a fly fisherman'."

He pointed out that tenkara should be attractive to many folks who are not fly fishing now.

"There is an opportunity here for backpackers, people in kayaks, people in canoes — there is opportunities for all types of people," he said.

The take away

I admire Lefty for who he is and what he means to the sport. He is a true ambassador who calls things as he sees them. The sport is richer and more enjoyable for having him in it and when Lefty speaks, whether it is about tenkara or life, we can all learn something.


I too use more than one fly, but it was interesting to hear a very satisfied sounding Yvon Chouinard speak at the 2017 Tenkara Summit (a month ago) about using only a soft hackle pheasant tail for a year and catching more fish than he ever has. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JQcJVuUW5w