Idaho has been awesome and I can’t wait to visit other states spreading tenkara. Utah in April and July (at the Tenkara Summit), Oregon in May and maybe your state if you invite me for a gathering/presentation and organize something.
Today I held a tenkara clinic hosted by the Idaho Angler. The morning session consisted of going through the history, story and philosophy of tenkara as well as some of the basic techniques used. We then moved outside to practice casting. And, finally, headed to some nearby private water to put into practice the landing techniques.
We intended to fish a small stream that ran near the lake where I could show the main techniques for presenting a fly. However, I decided to start at the lake to go through a few basic techniques together. After a few minutes someone had the first fish on, and as you may imagine at that point no one was really interested in leaving the spot. As you’ll notice on the fish below, everyone of us was using a tenkara fly. The class embraced the idea of not switching flies despite the size 20 midges we observed on the shore. I showed them that by pulsating the fly with a controlled up movement was very effective. As we were in a lake and the fish were deeper, I taught them to keep more line in the water as they did this.
It turns out it was a great place to learn how to land fish properly with tenkara, and we still covered some of the main techniques for manipulating the fly.
During the indoor portion of the class I started talking about how to land a fish with tenkara. There is one thing I always share with people regarding landing fish – with tenkara and western fly fishing: keep your arm low and angle the rod back and DO NOT EXTEND YOUR ARM OVERHEAD. With the arm extended high one can not control the fish and it can be impossible to grab the line or remove sudden slack from the system. Just as I was demonstrating what would happen when one raises the arm high, I looked at the wall by the front of the classroom and I noticed the picture below, a great example of what not to do but also something all too familiar from action shots we see in magazines.
As I promised on my last post, here’s a picture of Chris Gerono’s first trout on tenkara. Chris is the head guide of Idaho Angler, in Boise . Fish caught on the Owyhee River, Idaho. About 20″. Chris embraced tenkara and acquired the skills readily. I was mostly impressed by his quick understanding of the landing techniques with tenkara – arm low, steady retrieve and no rush.
And, lastly, here is one of the reasons for me to return to Idaho in the future: the S. Fork of the Boise River canyon. Rick drove me on a road at the top of the canyon. The view was spectacular and the “river tenkara-perfect”.
This is Tenkara Week – Idaho.
For quite sometime I have thought of coming to Idaho, it just never seemed to work out in the past. Then, recently a very dedicated tenkara angler, John Ellsworth, convinced everyone here to bring me over for a presentation and clinics with Trout Unlimited’s Boise chapter (Ted Trueblood Chapter). John, with the help of Rick Williams, one of the owners of Idaho Angler and someone who totally gets tenkara (and is a huge conservation advocate) organized the week around tenkara. Thank you John and Rick, and TU for making this happen. It started off great.
Please read on for what kinds of techniques and flies worked best on yesterday’s outing.
On Wednesday evening I gave a presentation to a packed room at the TU meeting. The presentation went pretty well and there was a great amount of interest aftewards. Prior to the presentation we spent sometime tying tenkara flies, and Carrie showed a couple of flies she had been tying.
Yesterday, Rick and I were joined by Chris, the head guide at Idaho Angler, for a day of fishing on the Owyhee river, about an hour out of town. We had a nice break in the weather, with no rain and great temps.
The fishing was incredible and everyone got a good number of some very shiny browns – a few confused me for rainbows actually. Chris and Rick were great students, very open to learning the techniques and I could see they got a lot out of it because of that. Their humbleness and openness to learning deeply betrayed their vast angling experience.
It was Chris’ first time tenkara fishing, and Rick had been out a few times before. I spent quite a bit of time showing them tenkara – the method – and I believe they learned a thing or two and enjoyed seeing what could be done with tenkara. The trick of the day was to pulsate the fly, a slow and controlled up and down movement did the trick for several fish.
I missed Chris’ first fish on tenkara, but it was reportedly 19-20″ (they got a picture of it, and I’ll have to post it here soon). He caught a few afterwards, with most fish being caught with a pulsating fly.
There were small mayflies being sipped on the surface and a few large stoneflies with egg-sacks drifting around. It was interesting for Rick and Chris not to have to think much of fly patterns. Instead, throughout the day we just referred to the flies as “the large one”, “the gray one”, or “the olive one”.
I caught my first couple of fish by using the Ishigaki Kebari cast to rising fish sipping small mayflies, and at least one more on that fly afterwards. The ones cast to rising fish were caught on dead-drifts, later I caught one by pulling the fly upstream about 1ft at a time.
The large Oki Kebari did very well. I got a monster rise to my oki kebari as I manipulated it slowly on a slow pool by fast water. I would guess, the hump of the fish I saw, it would be a 22″-25″ fish! Chris later hooked two more that could be on that size range, using the same large fly and getting it deep by using the currents.
The most common misconception about tenkara it that it is just dapping – that because the line is tied to the tip of the rod, it is only lowered onto the water instead of cast as is done with western fly casting. At the recent fly fishing shows we attended, it was clear that a lot of people had heard of tenkara, at least in passing at this point, but a vast majority would say, “yes, I heard about it, it’s that dapping technique from Japan…” This assumption is all to common among those who have never tried it, but luckily very quickly dismissed by anyone who has or who has seen it in person. I pleaded the organizers of the Fly Fishing Show to give me sometime on the show’s ponds to demonstrate the casting techniques, and that was a huge eye opener to many attendants.
As the first company outside of Japan focused on introducing the method to others, a huge part of what we need to do is education of the public. In this stage in the game, we will be focusing on a new campaign: “Tenkara is Not Dapping”. The first two products of the campaign are based on the photography and video clips taken by Brian Flemming.
We’d love to count on your help to post pictures, and videos showing that it is a method of fly fishing where casting is involved. Please inundate the web with the message that “Tenkara is not dapping”!
Since the introduction of tenkara outside of Japan, to many people the method has seemed to acquire the meaning of “short-line fly-fishing.” Yet, just like tenkara is not dapping, and is not restricted to small streams, it needs not be restricted – and I believe it really shouldn’t be restricted – to the use of a short line. In fact, my favorite rig for tenkara consists of a level line about 1 ½ times the length of my rod (often 20 ft of line) plus 4 ft of tippet. Using a long line, where the stream allows it, or perhaps calls for it, will open an entire new tenkara world for you.
In May 2010, Daniel Galhardo, founder of Tenkara USA, spent 2 weeks in Japan learning more about tenkara, and fishing with two of the most renowned tenkara masters in the country, Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, and Sakakibara Masami (aka Tenkara no oni). Daniel captured some of their lessons on tenkara casting, and presentation/fly manipulation techniques. After about one year the video was finally edited into something at least presentable.
We hope you will pick up a couple of the tricks in the video, and most importantly learn what tenkara, the Japanese method of mountain stream fly fishing, looks like. Many more lessons were learned, but only so much can be shared in one video.
The events shown took place in the Itoshiro River area, Gifu Prefecture.
Daniel will be heading to Japan again in May, this time for 2 months. He will be documenting much of this trip as he visits the country and will be posting regularly. Please keep checking tenkarausa.com/blog for updates from May 10 through June 30th.
The last post was based on the long-held discussion of whether it’s better to fish upstream or downstream. Thinking about it, made me discuss a few pragmatical reasons to fish upstream. I decided to ask Dr. Ishigaki why he likes fishing upstream, looking for more “scientific” reasons. But, instead I was reminded of an important reason that I missed: angler etiquette!
When we go fishing in a mountain stream, we are often looking for solitude. Not only that, but fish in smaller streams will often be spooked more easily and not take a fly if they have been disturbed. So, keeping other anglers in mind, as well as our own interest, the best approach is to have every angler fish in the same direction, upstream. This will ensure that anglers are not crossing each other, just to find the entire rest of the stream spoiled. It will also allow anglers to leapfrog each other if they see someone upstream.
I grew up surfing, and though I won’t discuss the etiquette of wave riding, and surfers tend to be quite different when it comes to protecting their water, they do understand clearly that some etiquette in the water benefits everyone. Sure, there are wave hogs, and most breaks are way more crowded than any stream I have ever fished, but everyone moves in one general direction and that helps keep people happy in the water.
Think about the origins of tenkara and western fly-fishing. Tenkara was originated by commercial fishermen, whose livelihoods depended on very efficiently and cheaply catching fish. Instead of spending time tying different flies on to the end of their line, or time and money making different patterns or making sinking devices, they relied on technique, learning how to present and manipulate their one fly. Most tenkara anglers will stick with one pattern only, and make it work with whatever situation they are presented with, even if it means they need to sink a fly without split shot or heavily weighted flies.
Many people believe they need to use a nymph, a heavy hook, or – UGH! – split shot to sink a fly. Casting a line with split shot is one of my worst nightmares, I have done it a few times and hated it. With some technique you can get your fly to sink between 3 and 6 ft, sometimes even more depending on the conditions you’re presented. While split-shot, or a heavy Czech nymph will get your fly to sink deeper and faster, I find them awful to cast and one more piece of junk to get lost in the stream or for you to carry, plus, moving one pool upstream will probably produce better results if no fish are taking. One question I get time and time again is how do you sink your fly with no weight?
The first thing you can try doing is casting a bit farther upstream, this will give the fly a chance to soak up more water and sink a bit. Now, here’s the cool technique for sinking your fly deeper in a mountain stream. It’s really a deadly technique, particularly useful when you find some white water, and you have tried a few techniques but no fish rose. Simply cast the fly upstream from the incoming white water (it doesn’t have to be a waterfall looking pool, simply a point with more turbulence). Let the fly drift into the white water, and then lower the rod tip almost all the way down to the water. The intent here is to get as much of your line in the turbulent white water, and get it to be sucked under. As the line gets dragged under your fly goes down with it. After a few seconds you’ll feel the line starting to move downstream, as it does you follow it with your rod, slowly and gradually raising the rod tip as the line goes downstream.
– Always strive to keep your line tight. This will allow you to feel anything taking the fly, or for you to see the line stopping/moving in an unusual way, which may mean a fish has taken the fly.
– Variation: As your line starts going downstream, and you start raising the rod tip, try raising the rod tip then dropping it about 10 inches up and down at a time. Every time you lower it you’ll need to wait a second for the fly to sink again. This is a great way to entice trout to take, and every small pull up may allow you to hook a fish if one is has your fly and you haven’t noticed it.
– Move your rod downstream and slightly forward with it to keep it from swinging.
– The technique works a bit better with level lines, which are denser than the traditional lines.
Two of the main goals to fly-fishing technique are attracting a fish, and getting the fish to actually take the fly. Dr. Ishigaki and other anglers in Japan have done many studies on these two aspects of fly-fishing, and have come to conclusions about the best ways to not only attract, but actually hook trout.
Western fly-anglers associate soft-hackle flies with a swinging motion, and thus many people new to tenkara have so far thought of it as a great method for swinging tenkara flies. However, there is a major flaw with swinging a fly: swinging moves the fly away from the where the fish expected it to be. Today’s technique is intended on fixing that. I learned this technique when I was fishing with Dr. Ishigaki in Japan and I complained that I was getting many fish to rise, apparently right on my fly but they weren’t “taking” it. He explained they seemed to be rising right on my fly but he could see they were just missing it and explained why.
When a trout is lying in its resting place, it’s keeping an eye on the food being brought by the current. In normal conditions, free-flowing insects (i.e. not attached to a line) will flow straight downstream. Except for very abnormal currents, they will flow in a straight line. When a trout spots food coming towards it, it moves in a straight line to intercept the food, in its strike zone. However, if the bug (your fly or a live bug) moves towards the shore, it also moves away from the fish’s strike zone. Sometimes the fish may be able to catch it, of course, but more often than not, a fish coming in a straight line upstream to intercept a fly will it if it has moved away from the strike zone. Have you ever felt like trout were rising right by your fly, almost right at it, but weren’t taking it? Many times it’s because they rose where the fly was supposed to be, but you pulled it away.
Next time, don’t swing your fly, try this instead: Cast just slightly upstream, or straight across. Stop your rod and let the fly flow downstream into its first natural position. Pause the fly in place for 1-2 seconds (depending on speed of current, among other things). Then, and this is where the change comes in, instead of keeping the rod tip in place, or swinging the rod tip toward the shore, actively move your entire arm downstream while pushing it slightly forward. Let the fly move about 1ft or a bit more, and stop the fly in place again for one or two seconds. And repeat, actively moving your entire arm downstream and forward. Stopping it in place is not absolutely necessary but will give fish a better chance to see it.
– Stopping the fly in place will give fish a chance to see your fly and hopefully strike it.
– Repeat this 1 or 2 more times casting and stopping the fly exactly in the same spots. If no fish rises do it in a slightly different place 1 or 2 more times. If no fish, MOVE upstream.
– Start with your arm close to your body so you have room to move it forward (starting with the arm fully stretched will make this difficult)
– One important variation is keeping the main line in the water so the fly will stay right under the surface. To do this, picture the angler above holding the rod with his right hand. He’s holding the handle high above his head with his right elbow fully bent, and the rod tip almost touching the water on his left (so it’s pointing down). Similarly to this technique he’s also going to be moving his arm downstream and slightly forward.
A post on tenkara fishing techniques has been long overdue. I have written many times about how relying on technique instead of fly patterns and additional gear is a good way to fish and actually learn how to fish. See “Confidence and Doubt”. It’s simpler this way, I like it. Relying on technique gives you the freedom to roam without consulting fly guides or concerning yourself with what may be hatching, or with what you should bring on your next outing to that far away place. You can fish with one fly all over the world, in any mountain stream you choose. While I hope to share these techniques in video in the future, I thought you may benefit with illustrations of the most common tenkara techniques in the meantime.
The first illustration is one that will be most familiar to you. It’s how most people fly fish already and is effective with tenkara too. One simply identifies where fish may be holding (think about places near enough a current that food is being brought to them, but where the water allows them to stay put without spending a lot of energy: behind and in front of rocks – even if these rocks are hidden under the surface – and on the seams of currents. With this technique one casts upstream from the spot, and lets the fly drift down as he lifts the rod in order to keep the line tight. As with most tenkara techniques you should strive to keep the main line off the water. Tip: when drifting the fly downstream one should not normally pull it, you must give the fish a chance to see your fly and grab it.
In the upcoming days we’ll be sharing the main methods of manipulating a fly with tenkara. While there are several different ways, and variations of the methods we’ll cover, the main techniques include :
1) Downstream, drag-free drift (today).
2) Cast, stop the fly, drift it downstream/stop/drift/stop
3) Cast downstream/pull fly/stop/pull/stop
4) Sinking the fly with no weight
5) Retrieving the fly, pulling it back across the stream.
6) Repeatedly casting fly in one place
Ever since getting into the discipline of using one fly pattern/style only, with no great concern for choosing the “right” fly, but rather focusing proper fishing technique (presentation and manipulation of the fly), there have been moments of doubt. However, I have chosen to rely less on gear and perfect technique instead. I wanted to learn more, to become proficient at fishing, not spend my time changing flies.
Further, I’m very attracted to the idea that whether I catch a fish or not is entirely up to me and my technique, and that if a fish is not biting maybe I could do something slightly different. This thought, that maybe it’s not my fly selection, but rather my technique on fishing it, have dramatically pushed me to become a better angler. I have stuck with using a tenkara fly only (mostly size 12), no matter where I fish, or what is hatching. Also, absolutely no indicators, no floatant and no weight! To once again borrow the words of Yvon Chouinard on the subject, “I believe the way toward mastery of any endeavor is to work toward simplicity; replace complex technology with knowledge, hard work and skill.”
Since the idea of sticking with one fly and relying solely on my technique is still relatively new to me, sometimes doubt creeps in. This is especially true if I find myself fishing a bigger, slower river, like the Madison, for which everyone has advice on what fly to use and for which there are dozens of books on what specific patterns to use at different times of the year, etc. And, it’s also true if I find myself in the company of very experienced anglers, like John Gierach and Ed Engle, who may be using different patterns in a stream they know well. And, it is especially the case if the day is slow. In these situations it’s very easy to lose confidence in my technique, in the techniques I can use to attract fish, and start thinking that maybe they are right! But are they? The western thought of matching the hatch is so ingrained in our minds that it’s hard to let go of it and realize that a couple of hundred years ago professional tenkara anglers, in the mountains of Japan, who depended on catching trout for a living, made it happen with one fly pattern and flawless technique. Nowadays that is the approach taken by tenkara anglers in Japan, for sport, and they continue catching fish.