Exploring Traditional Japanese Styles of Tenkara Fly Fishing
Tenkara was originally developed by Japanese anglers several hundred years ago. Records indicate that modern Tenkara "sport fishing" evolved from two sources; One being rural anglers pursuing trout species (Iwana, Yamame, and Amago) in mountain villages, and another being higher social classes (Nobles and Samurai warriors) pursuing rough species (Dace and Chub) in cities.
Among historical Tenkara fly patterns, you will find Kebari that are wet flies, dry flies, and even some with beads that will sink the fly quickly. It is clear that traditional Tenkara anglers approached the style many different ways!
Badger Tenkara enjoys studying traditional Tenkara techniques from Japan. We do this by reading, watching videos, and taking classes from Japanese masters. Not only does it help us to sharpen our own skills, but it helps us to guide you towards resources and knowledge that will make you a better angler. There are some common themes we've observed:
1) Tenkara's core skill set focuses on developing pinpoint casting, highly controlled fly manipulation, and specfic presentation sequences. It requires practice (on the water and on the lawn) and an investment in time to build experience.
2) Fly selections tend towards using a more limited collection. This isn't a rule or requirement of Tenkara - but more likely a result of anglers having fished for certain species with certain techniques for a very long time, and having developed a knowledge of what works. They've learned to "make things happen" with fewer fly patterns - in some cases, only one. This is truly an argument for "knowing more and needing less"!
3) Many techniques utilize an unweighted wet pattern that is then manipulated on as many depths of the water column as possible, including the surface. The fly can be sunk using current and stream hydraulics, and can be lifted with controlled speed, direction, and action.
4) The line is always kept off the water - except when it isn't! While we have seen many instances where a Japanese Master angler floated the line above the water in the "proper" Tenkara way - we've seen just as many situations where they seemed to have no concern about leaving the line on the water, and still caught plenty of fish. Sometimes it doesn't matter, and sometimes it is crucial. Only experience will teach you how to tell.
5) Drifts tend to be kept shorter. This promotes precision and control over the fly, and helps to keep proper line tension.
6) Japanese Tenkara is very keyed in to its local environment, environmental conditions, and culture. It reflects the characteristics of the species they pursue (almost exclusively smaller trout) and the environment they fish in (almost exclusively mountain streams). Be aware that tenkara is both a type of fishing rod and equipment, and it is also a culture and philosophy. You are under no obligation to approach it in any specfic manner. We ask that you respect other angler's choices to pursue "their tenkara" in the manner that works best for them.
Here are internet destinations that Badger Tenkara considers to be outstanding resources for investigating traditional Japanese Tenkara. We want to share them with you so that you can benefit from their knowledge, too!
TENKARA-NO-ONI The English language website of Masami Sakakibara, known as "TENKARA-NO-ONI". He is widely considered one of the greatest living Tenkara masters, and there is much to learn on his wonderful website!
TENKARA-FISHER A prolific collection of interviews with Japanese anglers and others who fish Japanese waters make this a stand-out site.
FALLFISH TENKARA "The Adventures Of A Tenkara Fanatic Living In Japan". This blog is an eclectic mix of gear reviews, trip reports, and cultural notes made by an American angler who lives in Japan and is exploring their streams, cities, and fishing opportunities.
MY BEST STREAMS An amazing collection of Tenkara history, including a library of traditional Kebari patterns that is unrivaled absolutely unrivaled.
Nymphing with Tenkara Rods
The unique advantages of a longer, fixed line rod make for an exceptional nymphing tool. Maintaining proper line tension, the angler enjoys remarkable control and strike detection capabilities. Here are a few considerations for nymphing with Tenkara rods.
1) Maintaining proper line tension is critical. Strike detection and hook set both depend on it.
2) Being able to see the line is a great help to many anglers. Consider tying a "sighter" section into your rigging if you are having trouble seeing the line well enough to detect movement.
3) Weighted nymphs are perfectly acceptable for Tenkara fishing.
4) Multiple nymph rigs work just fine for Tenkara fishing. Dropper combos can be an extremely productive approach!
5) While you can use a strike indicator, they are often unnecessary with Tenkara fishing. The tip of a floating line left on the water can be used as an integrated strike indicator, or the angler can focus on feel and watching the sighter section of their rigging to detect strikes.