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!
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:
While not all tenkara flies have the hackle facing forward (away from the bend of the hook / “reverse”), the most popular and most easily recognizable tenkara flies do. These are called the “sakasa kebari”, or “reverse [hackle] flies”. As a result that’s a question often asked: What is the reasoning behind the reverse hackle on tenkara flies?
There are three main theories for why tenkara flies came into being (as well as why some of the flies used in the Italian method of fishing called Pesca Alla Valsesiana turned out to be tied in similar fashion).
1) Speed: Tying flies with the hackle facing forward, away from the bend of the hook, may be one of the quickest ways to do it. You simply wind some thread on the head, wind it back a bit, secure a feather and wind it, brush the feather forward, then build the body of the fly with the thread and finish the fly on the body of the fly where there is a lot of room to do so. This would have especially been important before vises came about.
2) Body: When a fly with hackle pointed toward to the bend of the hook hits the water and is pulled toward the angler, the hackle brushes back against the hook. The fly becomes slimmer. When the reverse hackle is forced back a bit, it actually opens up and the fly has even more “body”, or more visibility, than in its dry state. Flies will vary in how pronounced their reverse hackle will be, but for the most part they retain the reverse hackle fly quality. This is the photo of a reverse hackle fly when it is wet, the hackle is back a bit, but it still has body to it.
3) Motion For the most part western flies have been designed with aesthetic imitation, not motion, in mind. Perhaps because it is very difficult to impart motion to a fly that is very far away or tied to the end of a very heavy line or a line that has to go through guides of a rod. Tenkara on the other hand was developed to be fished with lighter lines, normally closer range, and with the line tied right to the tip of the rod. These characteristics allowed for the fly to respond to any movement imparted on the rod. Whether the reverse hackle flies were deliberately “invented” that way because or motion or not we will never know. What I do know is that this is probably one of my favorite reasons for the reverse hackle. When I want to, and if the situation calls for it, I can pulse my fly. I can impart motion to it. When I pull it a bit, the hackle opens, when I relax it it closes. When tenkara flies are imparted with motion they are very buggy and lively. This is one of my favorite reasons for tenkara flies, and the fact that they are quick to tie, retain some body when in the water, and are very versatile as I can fish them on the surface by keeping line off the water or under by allowing it to sink a bit.
Stay tuned for an upcoming video on different techniques for tenkara.
Photo by Brian Flemming
A few years ago I went fishing with a friend. After a few hours my water bottle was empty. Yet, in a twist of irony 350 cubic feet of water passed by me every second. He smiled, pulled out his bottle and gave me a sip of his precious water. I noticed the bottle was full, and it also had something inside. “It’s a water filter. Never run out of water!”, he said. GENIUS!
For someone who spent so much time in the water, it baffled me that I hadn’t come to that solution sooner by myself. For years I’d either run out of water and tough it out for a bit ; or I’d simply drink water directly from the stream I was fishing. If I was fishing high elevation water I never thought twice before taking a sip from the stream. Not the smartest idea in the world, I know. I know it because after years of drinking from streams, yet never having any symptoms, I finally asked my doctor to get tested for Giardia. I told him I often drank directly from streams which could have giardia and never used hand sanitizers. He gave me a dirty look but prescribed the tests. Sure enough, I had giardia. Never a symptom, I was just a carrier.
To a minimalist who doesn’t like carrying a backpack, but who is usually out long enough to require more than a “mere” 8 cups of water, the small water filter was like discovering fire for the first time. Immediately after fishing I went and bought myself a water bottle with a nifty filter built in. More often than not I am also surrounded by water, so it isn’t a matter of supply. It is a matter of clean supply.
I wasn’t crazy about the bottle solution. It was bulky and difficult to carry. Luckily the filter didn’t last me very long, so I did some more research and came across the minimalist’s water filtration dream. Straw-type water filters that I could put in my pocket when not hiking far, or couple to a water bottle if I was going to be away from the water for any period of time. The straw filters allow me to drink directly from the stream whenever I needed, and are very compact.
So, in case you’re looking for a solution not to run out of water again, carry a small water filter with you.
My preferred filter at the moment is the Aquamira Frontier Pro. They run only about $20, are only as thick as the handle of your tenkara rod, but 7 inches long. If will be hiking for any period of time I couple it with a flat bladder. My preferred one at the moment is the Platypus Softbottle, 0.5L for most of the time, 1L for slightly longer hikes. Often I just leave the bladder folded in case I need it, but drink directly from the stream otherwise.
We like to say that all you need to fly fish is a rod, line and fly. And, to a large extent that is very true. That really is all you need.
But what about the other stuff that will make things more comfortable, more accessible, or more effective? Like waders, for example?
Should you wear waders?
We can tell you that you do not need to wear waders to fish. In fact, leaving the waders behind and going in with whatever one is wearing, or trying to stay out of the water a bit more, can be great way to reduce the load. Like the reduction in gear brought about by tenkara, leaving the waders behind can feel liberating. However, waders can open up water that is difficult to fish without waders. On a long day out they can provide a lot of comfort, and depending on the weather and terrain they may be a necessary thing to avoid coming close to hypothermia.
If you’re just getting into the world of fly-fishing and contemplating whether you should invest the money for a pair of waders (as low as $50 for cheap hip waders, or $600 for a good pair of waders and wading boots), here are a few considerations I usually keep in mind.
The first thing that comes to my mind when deciding whether to wear waders or not is my intent for the day. Am I going mushroom hunting or backpacking and fishing on the side if I find a good pocket? Or, is fishing the primary reason I’m going out? If my primary intent is to fish, I’ll wear waders. Even if I have a side of me that really likes to rough it, I also like to be comfortable when I can. If I’ll be spending a lot of time in the water, and I want to focus on fishing waders will make me comfortable and will open up a lot of new water. Plus, I admit I’m not crazy about getting my undies wet if I have to cross a deep pool, even if it is hot out there.
But, if the focus is on other activities and tenkara is the secondary goal, then I often leave the waders behind. Nothing says “simple fly-fishing” and “I’m just that cool”, like posing with a pair of torn-up jeans and sneakers.
Seasons and Weather
Winter is fast approaching. Those of you who are going fishing right now are noticing the water and air temperatures dropping. If you plan on fishing during the winter, then waders are a must. I have fished in the winter time wearing my skiing clothes when my primary intent was backcountry skiing. But, when you spend enough time near the water, you’re bound to get wet. And, getting wet when it is freezing out there not only feels “uncomfortable”, but can be outright dangerous with hypothermia a real possibility. So, wear waders and warm socks, and another pair of warm socks, and warm underwear…
If it is summer and it is warm out, not wearing waders is a good way to go. If the weather is hot and you are not going to be in the water for most of the time, then no matter how breathable your waders are they will feel very hot. In that case, think about intent and terrain. You can go either way in the summer. Some opt to wear wading boots with some neoprene socks and “wet-wade” when the main intent is fishing. This past summer I worn some fast-drying shoes fairly often when going hiking and fishing on the side. Your choice.
And, of course, if it is really really hot out, swimming-wear may be the way to go (bonus: without a reel you can fish at the same time you swim!).
Terrain also comes into play on making the decision. In most streams you can fish from the shore, or fish well by hopping rocks. In lakes you can certainly fish from the shore.
But, some streams seem to call for waders. In particular, I like to wear waders in three types of places:
Streams that have a lot of trees and brush on the shores but a relatively open canopy in the middle. In these waters, which I admit may be a lot of waters, wearing waders allows you to fish in the middle of the stream and casting mostly upstream. By being in the water you can more easily avoid getting caught on trees behind you.
Larger rivers that have fewer features (e.g. boulders). Wearing waders will allow you get a little closer to the parts of the river you think the fish will be. Of course, you can fish from the shore very effectively in many parts of these rivers. But, once in a while you’ll come across a bend on the river where the riverbed is very shallow close to you, but there is a great looking whirlpool or something on the other side. Wading closer may mean getting your pants and underwear wet, waders will keep that from happening.
Canyons. If I’m fishing a relatively steep canyon I may end up being in the water a lot. And, sometimes I’ll be forced to cross the stream many times as large obstacles keep me from staying the course. So, waders will be a good thing to wear.
Though, of course, if the canyons are steep enough I may just opt for a full wetsuit.
This new video will show you the foundations of how to cast with tenkara. This tenkara casting video is long overdue but I hope it will help you as you work on perfecting your tenkara casting.
This is the first of a new series of videos on tenkara techniques I’m currently working on. There have been many suggestions on things folks would like to learn (such as how to fish in tighter streams). We’ll be working on those. If there are things you’d like to learn, please let me know here. – Daniel