One tenkara tip to rule them all

Sage advice for all anglers, not just the reel-free crowd
tenkara fishing
Photo: Tenkara USA

I recently posed this question to a group of fellow tenkara anglers; "If you could share one tip that you think is essential to enjoying tenkara what would it be."

The responses surprised me but maybe they shouldn't have. After all, the whole premise behind tenkara is simplicity. The comments essentially broke down into three areas, experience the zen of tenkara, enjoy the simplicity of tenkara rigs and a few great tenkara hacks.

Get in the tenkara 'zone'
Many anglers focused on the greater ease of focusing on the experience of being out on the water that comes with the tenkara's inherent lack of clutter.

James Ray wrote, "For me it's the feeling of Zen, allow yourself to become what you are doing. Leave the world and its problems at the truck, find your inner peace and become one with the fly."‬‬

"Look all around and be a part of it. Rivers and streams are universes by themselves. Tenkara allows you to keep stealth while fishing. There's incredible life just a footstep [in front] of you," wrote Fabrice Golay.

"I have fly fished for 53 years and watched as the sport has become more technical and competitive. Tenkara represents the simpler side of fly-fishing to me. Don't sweat the details, just fish!‬‬‬‬" wrote John Farmer.

Chris Stewart wrote, "One tip essential to enjoying tenkara: just do it."

Keep it simple
There are some strong opinions on tenkara definitions, and I won't go into that here. But common element in many of the responses was the notion of simplicity, the idea of letting the fishing, not the gear, drive the experience.

John Geer wrote, "If you come from a western fly fishing background, tenkara should be very easy to pick up. The most difficult thing may be learning to set up the rod. Make sure you're very comfortable with that before you get to the water.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬"

"I personally love the versatility tenkara brings to the table. It's not all about the dead drift, the manipulation of the fly is what changed the way I look at fly-fishing. The Kebari style fly can be manipulated to give it lifelike action in so many ways”, wrote Jesse Spears. “My tip to anybody getting into tenkara is to learn how to use the fly to attract strikes. The pause and drift move, plunging the fly by casting it into water falling into pools to sink the fly, or by hanging your fly in one place and letting it sit on the water are all great ways to catch fish. Pulsing the fly upstream, downstream or across a stream to give the fly life-like action (basically like a steamer) is another must have for your fish catching tool box."

"My tip: Don't overcomplicate things. Try to reduce the number of knots, different kinds of line, and use of Western methods”, wrote Adam Klags. Our human brains have a way of wanting to make things more complicated when they don't have to be. Tenkara is about going back to the older and simpler ways before we overcomplicated fishing mountain streams.

Slow down and think it through. My mistake in fly-fishing was always thinking which line, reel, fly, etc. would work. The simplicity of tenkara took that out of the equation for me. My tactics and presentations have improved dramatically.‬‬‬‬”

Bill Harner wrote, "Have fun and don't over think it. You'll feel naked the first few times you fish without a reel and a pack full of doo-dads and 37 different patterns and flies. Have a good top water fly (I'm partial to a parachute Adams if there's a hatch or an elk hair caddis if there isn't any major action) and a good subsurface fly (small wooly bugger or a killer bug or killer bugger) in 2 sizes and you'll be having fun in no time.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬”

"Focus on technique and not tools and material. Challenge yourself to get the most out of the least. Understand that most failures are the result of less than ideal technique and not the tools you're using. Perfect your technique and the tools you have will work,‬‬‬" wrote Todd Parks.

Jesse Thomas wrote, "Take it everywhere. It's gotta be the best keep behind the seat fishing system around. Peer into every piece of water you cross and fish every one you have time for.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬"

"Relax and Fish. It can be as simple or as complicated as you desire...but without much skill you can begin, have fun and catch fish," wrote Adam Rieger.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jeff Krusinski echoed that sentiment, "My tip ‘Relax'."‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Have you tried this?
While the core of tenkara is the simple fly-fishing approach, the ability to adapt, modify and innovate is as much a part of tenkara as the fishing itself. In my experience those who tinker tend to lead the way to innovation. That certainly remains true in tenkara.

One of my personal favorites and an always-in-my-vest item are foam ear plugs. They make great temporary replacements for lost tip caps. Don Haynes turned me on to this hack, and it has already come in handy.

Besides losing tip caps, having the butt cap come loose and disappear can lead to multiple obvious problems. I haven't seen a good in-the-field solution, although the foam plugs might be a quick fix, so be sure you tighten them early and often.

Dennis Vander Houwen sent me one of his rainbow color variegated furled lines on a cool looking spool, and I have been looking for them since. It was Bill Hobson's comments that pointed me toward Bob-eez, No-Tangle Thread Bobbins from Bead Smith.

If you use multiple lines, these spools are a great way to carry them and organize them. I use the 2 ½ inch size for my lines and write the line length on the spool.

"These are the spools I got on Amazon. I use them for lines too because, unlike other spools, they don't unravel," wrote Hobson.‬‬‬

The takeaway
I'll quote Yvon Chouinard; "I believe the way toward mastery of any endeavor is to work toward simplicity; replace complex technology with knowledge, hard work and skill."


Unfortunately Mr Chouinard's statement is what I find difficult about fly fishing, and how people are viewing Tenkara. One does not have to work toward's simplicity. Simplicity is always life natural state, and we complicate it from there. You don't have to work to have simplicity; you have to work to make the simple, complex. His Tenkara; simple fly fishing is 168 pages long. Why on earth does it take 168 pages to explain simplicity? The Curtis Creek Manifesto did it in 48. You don't need to be conscious of knowledge, hard work and skill to do Tenkara. Just pick it up and start casting; fairly easily, you'll get it. At least the kids I teach Tenkara do, with very little knowledge, hard work or skill. You don't need all of that to "play." Sorry.

I don't do Tenkara, but agree with simplicity. Why is it assumed that adding a reel makes one an overzealous technocrat? I cast, I watch, and I certainly enjoy.

I agree. Adding a reel doesn't necessarily make it more complex/technical. I own a couple of tenkara rods (collecting dust) and I don't think it's simpler - just different and a little easier to start because of the limited casting stroke. Western fly rod/reel and tenkara can be as complex as you make it.

man that comment was way too complicated.

I won a Tenkara Guide trip near Asheville, John Miko, taught me some great tips that I use on fly fishing. Namely high stick nymphing and getting a drag free drift are essential simple elements that one can really improve their fishing and simplify our fishing. Also on my tenkara lesson having your line and rod ready for the downstream hook set has helped my hookups. I still haven't gotten a tenkara rod but use the techniques often- great article and tips for fly fishing! Thanks

As much as people really want Tenkara to be Simple, as the marketing would isnt. For once I agree with Yvon, (dont tell him) that in order to learn everything there is available with a fixed line rod, you must be willing to work hard and replace gadgets with skill. Dead drift is only a small bit of what angling truly is. You only need to look back a few hundred years to Robert Venables and his deep water manipulation of the Cad-bait to understand that the English Fixedliners favored moving presentations when they could. Tenkara, being the Japanese offshoot of the age old traditional method of fixed line fly fishing seems simple, but is endlessly nuanced. Enough to keep you learning for many many years. My advice is to Throw away preconvieved notions about Tenkara. Its keeping you from skills you didnt know were possible.