I’ve talked about the gear we like for spring, but let’s dive into tenkara fishing techniques for the season. We can break this down into the when, the where, and the how. Keep in mind that the preferred tactics and techniques in the northern Rockies may or may not be appropriate in your home waters. Before I began tenkara fishing, I was a pretty hardcore dry fly guy, and some of those traditions and biases are still in my fishing. Tenkara USA has always tried to prioritize technique over gear, so hopefully, these suggestions will give you some ideas to think about, even if your own findings are contrary to mine.
When to Go Spring Fishing with Tenkara Techniques
Typically in the spring, the best tenkara fishing will not be first thing in the morning. I’ve become an early bird as I’ve gotten older and am usually on my second cup of coffee by 6:00 am, but rarely get to the river much before noon. Spring water temperatures, at least here in Montana, are usually still pretty chilly in the mornings. Both the fish and the insects that get them moving are more active in the early to late afternoons. I’ve actually had good tenkara fishing until sundown. As we get closer to summer, I may go out a little earlier, at least until we get into full-blown spring runoff, but spring fishing is usually an afternoon activity for me. If you’re fishing tailwater and spring creeks that have more constant water temperatures, this may not be as much of an issue.
Where to Fish with Tenkara Techniques in Spring
While most tenkara anglers love to fish mountain streams, most of mine stay icy a lot later than some of the larger rivers. Tailwater and spring creeks offer “spring” conditions earlier than frozen freestones. Historically, a lot of the small streams I like to fish are also not legally open to fishing as early as the larger waters. They’re often closed to protect spawning fish running up from the larger rivers. Most of my spring fishing is on larger water like the Madison and the Gallatin. That’s one reason why I usually use larger rods in the spring, like our Ito or new Satoki rod. Small spring creeks and tailwater can offer excellent tenkara fishing in the early season, so if you have access to those, they may make a great option. Larger waters can be intimidating for some tenkara anglers used to smaller mountain streams, but I’d encourage all of you to be open to fishing larger waters if that’s what’s open and fishing well. It can be done very effectively with tenkara. Remember, larger rivers can be broken up into small rivers if you look closely, as each new seam may be a small river all into itself.
How to Use Tenkara Techniques for Spring Fishing Success
When I head out to the river in the spring, I’m usually hoping for rising or at least actively feeding fish as a reward for making it through another Montana winter. When I get to the water, I usually spend a fair amount of time looking for this kind of activity before I start casting with my tenkara rod. Fish usually come back to the same spots to rise over the year, and I’ll pay special attention to those spots where I’ve found rising fish in the past. If I find rising fish, I usually try to drop in just below them and make a simple upstream cast above where they’re rising, letting the fly drift down to them. This is about as simple as tenkara fishing gets: see fish, cast to fish, hopefully hook fish. Just because fish are rising doesn’t mean I’m not fishing traditional tenkara flies. Our small Takayama kebari can work great during a midge hatch on the Madison, as can other wet flies like a Syl’s Midge or even a small partridge and orange (even when the midges are all black, never did understand that one). If you’re just below rising fish, it’s usually very easy to detect strikes to wet flies “in the wash”. The tenkara line and tippet point to the fly. I find it much easier to detect fish eating small flies with tenkara than western fly fishing for this reason.
I must admit that I do like to fish western dries at this time of year. Kind of goes back to that “reward for making it through another Montana winter” thing again. The fish haven’t seen much pressure yet, so usually general imitations like a parachute Adams or Griffith’s Gnat work great. Later in the spring when Blue Winged Olives make their appearance, I love fishing an olive Sparkle Dun, but the Adams still works great. I fish these almost exactly like the small wet flies. Sometimes I can see dries this small, but often I’m still using the line as a strike/drift indicator. One very nice thing about tenkara fishing is that a waterlogged dry fly that’s not as visible but still fine to the fish can still be fished effectively using the “tenkara advantage” of the visible casting line.
Of course, we can’t always see fish working. If I’ve convinced myself the fish won’t be up, I prefer to fish traditional kebari flies, usually some variant on the sakasa style. I really like the Ishigaki and Oki flies we sell this time of year. I’ve had good luck with both dead-drifted flies and active presentations like pulsing (my favorite). It seems that water temperature plays a role here. When it’s cold, the fish don’t seem as likely to chase a moving fly. The sun can also play a role on the waters I fish, especially if brown trout are the predominant species in the water. Less sun is usually better unless that overcast is coupled with a cold front. If the fish aren’t very active, sinking the fly deeply may be necessary. I prefer to do that if I can with techniques like plunging and using the currents of the river to suck my fly down.
Many anglers do find it helpful to use a weighted fly or added weight this time of year. Indicator nymphing can be done very effectively with a tenkara rod. My friend Larry Tullis gave me and some other members of the Tenkara USA crew some tips on the finer points of what he’s termed as “bounce nymphing”. This tactic is effective any time of year, but can really help turn things around when lethargic fish are hugging the bottom. I like heavier rods any time I’m fishing a lot of weight, and our new Satoki is easily my favorite for it. Some of these tactics can get pretty far from traditional tenkara, but can also make for a productive day of fishing that otherwise might not be.
I truly love spring in the Rockies and the tenkara fishing that comes with it. The above suggestions may or may not help you in your home waters. When in doubt, keep it simple and just go fishing. Spring is a wonderful time to be out on the water, (perhaps my favorite) so make the best of it with these tenkara techniques and tips from Tenkara USA!
As you venture out for spring fishing with your tenkara rod, remember that the when, the where, and the how are essential to making the most of your experience. Tailor your tenkara fishing techniques to the specific conditions of your local waters, and always be open to exploring new waters and trying new strategies. With these tips from Tenkara USA, you’ll be well-equipped to enjoy a successful and rewarding spring fishing season.
Written by Martin Montejano
The flows on one of my favorite rivers are just about perfect, the fish are biting, and they should be hanging in the stretches of riffles and deep pools until the end of the season!
While I plan to spend most of my time over the next few months fishing around the boulders and cobbles that line the bed and banks of the river, I will be reinstating a few practices that I’ve found to be helpful on tenkara waters with stronger currents.
While the month of June offered great fishing in higher elevation creeks, some of those tributaries’ flows are starting to drop, and the fish are moving lower in the watershed. For the time being, I am back to fishing some of the more familiar waters in my area.
Coming back to the creeks I fish regularly helps shift my perspective from going after smaller fish to practicing some presentations and habits for fishing bigger waters in the next few months. While the creeks don’t often hold big trout, knowing popular holding spots for fish helps me to practice different tenkara techniques.
Written by Martin Montejano
As Spring turns into Summer and the last of the snow in the higher elevations begins to melt away, I redirect my focus to the smaller streams and creeks nestled in mountains. Long drives up windy roads offer gorgeous scenic views leading to quiet and often isolated tenkara fishing spots.
Whether the stream is lined with trees and bushes or winds its way through an open meadow, I always recommend taking a stealthy approach. Extra precautions and planning of your movements while on the water will bring you more success when the streams may be crystal clear. Whenever you can, avoid getting in the water. I often try to stay around the outside of the pools and move through them after they have been fished. Try to avoid crossing the creek if you can, but when necessary, cross in a shallow set of riffles after you have cast into all the spots that may hold fish near where you’re crossing. Doing this will help to mask your movements and avoid spooking fish in nearby pools before you get a chance to fish them.
Dry fly fishing season is upon us! Watching a trout snatch a snack off the top of the water is just about as exciting as it gets! While rod and reel fly fishing utilizes dry flies, fixed-line fishing brings some advantages when it comes to fishing the surface.
There’s a certain approach I like to take while the activity on a stream is hot and the fish are willing to come up for their food. But, as I imagine most anglers do, I usually start with a dead drift. A gentle cast to avoid spooking fish, followed by a short drift in a seam or foam line may be just enough to get a bite. Be sure to keep the rod tip high and the line off the water if you can, as it may keep a feeding fish from rising to that tasty-looking fly with the weird, bright string attached to it.
I’m an American tenkara angler that is influenced by Japanese tenkara and my own experiences at home. I initially learned about tenkara nine years ago from Tenkara USA (Daniel Galhardo) and subsequently deepened my knowledge from researching Japanese blogs and web sites. I used what I knew from my own fly fishing knowledge and by researching and interviewing famous Japanese Tenkara anglers. I shared many of those interviews with the community here.
What follows is a basic look into the equipment that I use to wet wade and fish my own home streams and as I travel around North America and beyond.
My primary tenkara rods are the Ito, Sato and Rhodo. I’ve been fishing these rods since they have been available. I own a couple of Japanese brand rods in my quiver but my Tenkara USA rods are my first choices to go fishing in my home streams. I think if I had one rod to choose, it would be the Ito. It is a rod where I can hunt small native trout in wild places and then further down the mountain where the stream flows into the high meadow lake, I can catch stacked up big trout coming from out of the lake. It’s a rod that has length and makes a small fish fun yet I can catch 20” fish with it all day long.
Here at Tenkara USA, we’ve been very excited about sharing tenkara with people new to fishing in general. This has been incredibly rewarding for all of us, but I would like to spend a bit of time in Tenkara Transitions helping those who are experienced and accomplished fly-anglers transition to tenkara.
While tenkara casting is usually much easier for beginners to pick up than western fly-casting, we have seen instances where casting a tenkara rod is difficult or clumsy for an experienced angler. As the physical requirements of tenkara casting are minimal, (after all, we’re casting a much shorter and lighter line with a longer lever) the difficulty some experienced western anglers have can be attributed more to a mental block than a physical inability to execute the task of a good tenkara cast. In my opinion, this block can largely be conquered once the different casting goals of western fly-casting and tenkara casting are understood.
For sake of brevity, I’m going to define these goals in the aspects of western fly fishing and tenkara that I and most of my friends seem most enthusiastic about, casting dry flies on rivers and streams with a western fly rod and casting unweighted flies (dry or wet) on a mountain stream with a tenkara rod.
With western casting, the cast begins with a straight line back cast roughly parallel to the water’s surface. Once the line has straightened behind the angler, the forward cast sends the line roughly parallel to the waters surface until it unrolls above the target, usually about eye level. Just as the line falls, (hopefully) controlled slack is often put in the line in the form of an arial mend. The rod tip then follows the plastic fly line to the surface of the water to leave the intentional slack in place and at the ready to place additional mends in the line as conflicting currents have time to take hold. Obviously, there are many different scenarios a western fly caster may find themselves in, but I hope this provides a good baseline for comparison.
In tenkara, the cast begins with a backcast above and behind the angler. Usually a bit before the line straightens out behind the angler, the forward cast begins and throws the line in front of and down from the rod tip. The line should unroll relatively straight to the target, roughly ten inches from the surface of the water. As the fly and some tippet hit the water, the rod tip should be left high, holding all or at least most of the casting line off of the water so that no mending is required. Again, there’s a lot one can do with a tenkara rod, but this is the norm for myself and many, (perhaps most) of the tenkara anglers I speak with.
Once a western fly-fisher understands these different casting goals, tenkara casting can be the simple and elegant act it should be; not much more than a flick of the wrist sending the line above and behind the angler followed by a flick of the wrist sending the line down and in front of the angler. There are more detailed and well done tenkara casting articles and videos that I encourage aspiring tenkara anglers to seek out, but believe understanding these basic goals will help the information in those sources be more accessible for someone entrenched in western fly-fishing. I also feel that understanding these goals will help the angler transition back and forth from tenkara to western fly fishing, should they so choose.
If you’re a western angler who’s had issues making a tenkara rod cast the way you think it should, please let us know if this explanation helps you. If not, we’d love to hear what you’re having troubles with in an effort to help you on your tenkara journey. Best of luck and happy casting!
Of course, feel free to continue calling us at 888.483.6527 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
A few months ago I wrote about what has become my best hydration solution while fishing. For years I used to carry a water bottle, but then would run out of water, even while surrounded by a lot of fresh clean water. I drank from streams directly on occasion, but then tested positive for giardia (never had any symptoms).
So, I picked up an ultra-light and very small water filter made by Aquamira, the Frontier Pro. It was cheap, super light and easily fits in a pocket. To go with it, I found the Platypus 500ml water pouch to be the ideal companion. I had finally come my across the best solution for always having water with me but without carrying a lot of weight. It kind of changed my life for fishing.
If I’m on the stream pretty much the whole time I’ll carry just the filter by itself, pull it out and drink directly from the stream.
When walking any distance to or from the stream I’ll take the bottle with me. And, of course, this has become my go-to water bottle for traveling anywhere or using on a daily basis as it is foldable and slim, so it fits in my back pocket and reduces in size as I drink from it.
We’ve been hearing a lot of comments recently about the very stupid myth, or “instruction”, that if you catch a good size fish on tenkara, you should throw your tenkara rod in the water. And we hope you have not been taking that seriously.
So, we want to tell you: You should not throw your tenkara rod in the water. At least not a Tenkara USA rod.
The myth is being spread with the popularity of Yvon Chouinard’s and Craig Matthew’s book, Simple Fly Fishing. It is a very unfortunate piece of instruction we wish had not been included in an otherwise decent book. It is based on old tales of anglers centuries ago throwing their wooden or bamboo rods in the water to prevent breakage. Good modern tenkara rods are advanced tools made of carbon fiber and exponentially stronger than older rods. If high-quality carbon fiber is used and the design and construction are solid, tenkara rods are very strong and very rarely break on fish. You may want to follow the fish a little bit as you fight it and get it in a good position (away from strong currents) to land it. But, I hope you believe us when we say you do not need to throw your rod in the water.
Here is a small tip that may help you in casting with your tenkara rod. It surprisingly makes a big difference in the cast. Having a hand fully gripping the rod makes the cast very “stiff”, all feels stiff this way. When you relax your grip and support the tenkara rod grip toward the edge of your palm all seems to work way better. Thanks John Geer for observing and pointing this out.
I almost got in serious trouble on one of the first times I wore waders while fishing. I had no experience in waders and didn’t have a clue about the possible dangers waders can present. I waded a bit too deeply over a gravel-bottom river. My feet gave way, my feet were swept from under me and I started getting carried downstream. Water started penetrating my waders, feet quickly felt wet, and then things felt heavy. While I had a fair amount of experience in water and some extreme sports, this was quite possibly one of the scariest things I have experienced. After some struggle I got my feet back underneath me and was able to walk back to shore, where I took my waders off and let the 30lbs of water out. I was lucky.
A few minutes ago I read the tragic news of an angler in Alabama dying when he walked into a drop-off in a lake and his waders filled up with water. Tragic. It brought back vivid memories of struggling with my waders as they filled with water.
In November, I wrote a post on whether to “wade up or not“,or when to wear waders. As I introduce many new people to fly-fishing, I think it is also my responsibility to share good wading practices and help keep you safe. Wading is not by definition dangerous, but there are risks we all need to be very aware of before getting in the water. There will be a time when you will slide, or fall, or walk off the deep end. What do you do then?
The 5 videos below may be old, but they are the best resource I have seen about wading safety.
In addition, please read this article by Ralph Cutter on wading safety.
This is one of the great articles found in the Tenkara Magazine we recently published. The article was written by Jason Klass, illustrations done by Anthony Naples. Unfortunately we missed a small portion of the article, specifically between technique #4 and #5. So, here is the complete article, which we hope you’ll enjoy and will give you a small flavor for the content in the first magazine devoted to tenkara in the world.
Ten Techniques for Tenkara
One thing beginning anglers often find daunting and mysterious is what to do once they set foot on the stream. They may have confidence that they bought good gear, but how do you actually present the fly effectively?
In this article, I will cover just a few presentation techniques that work well with tenkara. Some are Japanese in origin while others are western (and some are both), but all have been proven highly effective. Learning them can go a long way toward advancing a beginner to a highly skilled angler.
In this video Daniel Galhardo, founder of Tenkara USA, shares six basic presentation techniques for tenkara. These techniques were taught to Daniel directly from the main tenkara anglers in Japan, namely: Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, Sakakibara Masami, Katsutoshi Amano and Yuzo Sebata. After learning and understanding the Japanese tenkara techniques, Daniel has synthesized the knowledge and developed them into a system of tenkara techniques listed below, which he uses when teaching clinics around the world.
1) Dead-drift: allow the fly to naturally drift with the current
2) Pausing: move the rod tip upstream from the fly to pause the fly in place for a couple of seconds in spots where fish are likely to be, such as in front of rocks.
3) Pause-and-Drift: Put the rod tip upstream from the tenkara fly to pause it for a second or two, then let it drift, pause it again, let it drift.
4) Pulsing: with a rhythmic motion move your fly up and down, making the tenkara fly pulse with life. The tenkara fly will open its hackle when you pull it, but close a bit when you relax it.
5) Pulling: this is a bit like using your fly as a streamer, where you will impart a lot of action. Part of the tenkara line must be in the water to serve as an anchor as you pull the tenkara fly across or upstream about 1 1/2ft at a time. It is particularly useful in faster or higher water conditions.
6) Plunging: This is a technique that may be combined with any of the previous 5 techniques and is used to help sink your fly without using any weight, using currents instead. Cast upstream from a place where the water drops, plunges or gets channeled between rock, as the fly hits the part where the water is more turbulent, let some of the line into the turbulence to take it down. If you’re doing it correctly and hitting a good spot, your line will seem to stop for a couple of seconds, then it may move in circles a bit, and then it will move downstream, typically fairly deep. The best way to learn this technique in particular is to go out and try fishing without weight and observe what currents do to your fly.
These techniques are the foundation of tenkara. The best way to learn them and improve on them is to go out and give them a try. There is no right or wrong in terms of how much you should move your fly, how long you should pause the tenkara fly, etc. However, in the video I do share a couple of tips that will prove useful, especially: when pulsing the fly avoid having a lot of erratic movement and focus on an easy rhythm that will allow fish to take the fly. When dead-drifting across or a bit downstream, try starting with your arm close to your body then extend it out and downstream to create a better drift.
Tenkara is simple fly fishing; these techniques for tenkara are most effective used a tenkara rod, but may also be tried with rod and reel. The tenkara techniques above, presented as they are here are a system of techniques copyrighted by Daniel Galhardo and Tenkara USA.
If you missed the first video in the series of tenkara foundations, here is the video on how to cast with tenkara: