What can we learn by watching the casting techniques of two well known tenkara masters?
September 2017 was an outstanding month for tenkara enthusiasts in the US. Two of Japan's most renowned anglers gave instruction on subsequent weekends in Utah and Colorado. This was too good of an opportunity for Badger to pass up, and it made a fine excuse to make a 15 day road trip to the Rockies for some tenkara adventures! This post is the first in a series of reflections from that trip. Rather than make a simple trip report and bombard you all with "vacation photos" - I wanted to take some time to digest things and share whatever insight developed. In this post, we'll look at a short video of "Tenkara-No-Oni" Masami Sakibara and Dr. Hisao Ishigaki making casting demonstrations (at the 2017 Oni School and the 2017 Tenkara Summit, respectively) and I'll share some thoughts on the technique we observe.
Watch their arms, wrists, hands, and body stance...
"Tenkara-No-Oni" Masami Sakibara
Here we saw Oni casting from a kneeling position to trout in a pond at the Sundance resort in UT. Despite fishing from a crouch, his casting side foot is often still oriented forward. While Oni will typically move his hand to many different positions on the grip while fishing, he casts with his hand grasping the bottom plug in this instance. I regret that I did not get footage of him casting from a standing position, but here we see the precise and efficient movement that is the hallmark of Oni's casting. Things to note:
1) His arm, wrist, hand, and finger are in-line with his target. It creates a straight pathway that channels the cast's kinetic energy through the rod and line to place the fly with accuracy. Deviation from this straight line would disrupt the transfer of energy and decrease accuracy.
2) You'll see an ever-so-slight upwards draw during the back cast, and an equally subtle downwards drop of the arm to initiate the cast. This is the power generation component of the cast. This small movement of the arm (the largest body part being used in the cast) is all it takes to produce sufficient tenkara casting power!
3) Note the crisp, definitive stops of the wrist, and the smooth but rapid acceleration in between them. This is critical for maintaining precision, accuracy, and full length extension with light lines. Of particular importance is the singular abrupt stop. He does not decelerate or "ratchet" into the stop. This allows all of the power generated by his arm (and loaded into the rod during the back cast) to roll straight through the rod into the line during the forward stop.
4) You may also notice that the rod tip does not move too far outside of a well defined cone - it is consistently controlled, and stops at almost the exact same position on every cast. This key ability allows him to reliably keep the line off of the water and place the fly exactly where he wants it.
5) This high rod tip position on the cast's forward stop creates proper line tension instantly from the moment the fly is presented on the water. He can immediately set the hook when the fish strikes, with nothing more than a gentle upwards wrist-break.
Dr. Hisao Ishigaki
Dr. Ishigaki is seen here casting towards some targets on the floor of the event hall. You will note that he too orients his body with his casting foot forward and pointed towards his target. He grasps the rod with the more common "mid-cork" grip. This being the only time I've been able to observe him casting in person, I am unsure how often he changes his grip when fishing. I suspect that Dr. Ishigaki was slowing down his cast significantly for the audience, so components seem a bit exaggerated - but that makes them easier to see! Things to note:
1) Again, you can see that Dr. Ishigaki takes care to align himself with the target mechanically. His arm, wrist, hand, and finger all point in a straight line directly at the target.
2) While you can observe the "draw and chop" of the arm more readily here than in Oni's example, it is still a minimal motion. You won't see either of these anglers making large movements to cast.
3) His stops are a touch softer but still definitive and very consistent. You can tell by the angle of the rod that the rod tip is moving in a limited area, just like Oni's.
4) With the elbow held close to the body in a relaxed manner, Dr. Ishigaki can cast all day without generating tension in his arm and getting fatigued. The more tense an angler becomes, the less control and accuracy they will have with their casts.
5) This slower, softer cast resulted in more open loops than Oni's, but also created a more gentle landing for the fly. Minor variations in timing and crispness can change the characteristics of the fly presentation.
While there will always be differences in effective casting styles between anglers, there are certain components that we can identify from watching tenkara masters cast.
A: Proper mechanical alignment of the arm, wrist, and hand. B: Generate power with a compact movement of the arm - "draw and drop". C: Definitive, singular stops on the back and forward casts. D: Controlled and consistent tip positioning.
Now all we have to do is spend 30-40 years practicing our tenkara cast!