Tenkara as a teaching tool

Many are beginning to see tenkara as the ideal introduction to fly fishing.
Tenkara as a teaching Tool - Photo Tenkara USA
Photo: Daniel Galhardo

Stand around with a group of fly fishers and mention tenkara and the response can be both enlightening and entertaining. Tenkara evokes strong responses from some while it is ignored by others because it doesn’t fit the more common image of modern fly fishing.

But, haters are going to hate and I have no interest in getting into a prolonged discussion with haters of any stripe. On the other hand, every day more and more people are looking into tenkara and becoming interested in fly fishing because of it.

As a guide, I work hard to give my clients the very best experience possible on the water. I have a fairly extensive bag of tricks to reach into to make the magic happen. Tenkara is one of those tricks. And whether you are a guide or just someone who would like to get a friend, spouse, parent or family member into fly fishing you may want to look at tenkara as a teaching tool.

Here are some ways tenkara can help.

Patting your head and rubbing your stomach

One of the bumps in the road for beginning fly fishers is shooting line. It requires both coordination and practice. When I teach, I use the ability to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time as an example.

If someone is struggling with shooting line, having an alternative to effectively present the fly can make the difference in having a successful fishing trip. Because it is fixed line fishing, tenkara eliminates the need to shoot line. You just cast the fly to the target and keep the line off the water.

If you need to mend it does that mean it was broken?

I first heard “if you need to mend something than it must be broken” from Daniel Galhardo of Tenkara USA and that simple truth stuck with me. When you cast a fly and put your line in moving water you invariably have to adjust the line or “mend” it to keep the fly in the strike zone.

All to often mending becomes a challenge for rookie fly-fishers. It takes time and experience to read water and the currents so that when you do mend the line you are not doing more harm than good. Too often fish get spooked or flies get pulled farther out of the target area because of improper mending techniques.

With tenkara, you fish a very light line with a very flexible rod, which keeps most of the line off the water and away from the impacts of currents. If the line is off the water, then you don’t need to mend it; simple as that.

Right hand or left hand retrieve?

What hand do you reel with? I am righty and I reel with my right hand. I feel really awkward when I have to reel with my left. Beginners, not used to reeling often reel the wrong way or have trouble using a reel that is set up so they have to reel with their off hand.

Playing a fish with a bunch of line off the spool can also lead to some issues for new anglers (and some experienced anglers as well). Line gets tangled, snagged or just goes flying up the rod. In most cases, that means a lost fish.

Obviously, tenkara rods don’t have reels. No reel, no reel problems.

Neither a borrower nor lender be

Let’s face it, we worry about our gear. When we lend a fly fishing outfit to a friend or client we get a little uptight thinking about what can go wrong. I have “guiding” rods and reels and then I have my personal gear. Not too many fingerprints other than mine are on my personal gear.

After five years with teaching and guiding tenkara, I have yet to have a friend or client break a tenkara rod, and the risk of losing or dinging up a good reel is nonexistent (see above.)

Because tenkara is still fairly new, I am often loaning out my rods to other anglers that show interest. A quick lesson on the right way to extend and collapse the rod and word of caution about not using the rod to get flies out of trees (pull on the line instead of the rod) and we are off.

Sure tenkara rods can be broken; I’ve broken a few myself. But the risk of damaged gear is greatly reduced.

Sharing the fun of fly fishing can be as rewarding as the fishing itself. Having a simple, easy-to-use tool at your disposal can make the sharing that much more enjoyable. If you don’t have a tenkara rod, you might want to pick one up and give it a try and share it with someone who just wants to go fishing.


...And you get as deep into tenkara and/or fixed rod fishing as you like. It may be great for beginners, but like any activity, there is no ceiling. See TenkaraBum.com

For the last year I've been tight-line nymphing with my TenkaraBum40 on days when I want to nymph...