Short Cast: Entomology and tenkara

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June 30, 2016

Tenkara shows us there is a different way of thinking about fly-fishing, and that includes how we think about bugs and their relation with fly-fishing. In this episode Daniel discusses the relationship between (the study of bugs) entomology and tenkara

Referenced in this episode:
Bugs of the Underworld by Ralph and Lisa Cutter.
Video snippet (take a look at 1:52)

Transcript of Podcast Episode: Short Cast: Entomology and tenkara

This is Daniel Galhardo and you’re listening to the Tenkara cast, a podcast about a simple Japanese method of fly fishing, Tenkara. In the Tenkara cast we’ll be sharing information and techniques, history, philosophy, and tenkara stories from anglers all over the world. This podcast is brought to you by Tenkara USA, introducing tenkara outside of Japan since 2009. It’s only possible we create content such as this podcast and videos because of your support. So we thank you so very much for purchasing Tenkara USA rods, lines and flies. I hope you enjoy learning more about this simple method of fly fishing.

Hey, everyone, thanks for tuning in to another episode of the Tenkara cast. This is gonna be a short cast where I talk about the relationship of entomology or the study of bugs and tenkara. So in fly fishing, or at least in western fly fishing, one of the central concepts is what we call, Match the Hatch. And that’s the idea of seeing what bugs that are out there floating around, hatching, if you will, out of the water and deducing that that’s what the fish are going to be eating, that’s what they’re keyed in on a lot of times, and then we try to match those bugs with a replica, with a fly that imitates those particular bugs. So that’s like one of the central aspects of fly fishing. In tenkara, if you have been reading about it, you probably have noticed that we don’t talk a lot about that usually, and it’s not that it’s completely irrelevant, it’s just that we don’t pay quite as much attention to it.

Not too long ago, I was in a fly fishing event of sorts where somebody was trying to introduce fly fishing to an audience of people who primarily have never fly fished before. And he started his presentation talking about bugs. And it was really interesting to see when he started throwing a couple of Latin names around like… I don’t even remember the names because I’m not in tune with them anymore. But I looked around and I could see the faces of a couple of people and the information was just going right over their head. They were interested in learning about fly fishing, they were not signing up for a biology class. It was very clear to me. So studying bugs or being interested in bugs, being interested in the life that is on the streams. I think it is a very cool part of fly fishing. I think a lot of people get a lot of pleasure out of that. But the central message is that… That I like to share is that, it’s not really crucial for you to learn the Latin names of different bugs in the water if you want to be successful at fly fishing.

Again, some people are gonna to get a lot of pleasure out of that some people are gonna love turning the rocks in the water to see what bugs they can find. But a lot of other people are just interested in getting a fly in the water and see if they can entice a fish. So whereas in fly fishing, in Western fly fishing, one of the concepts is the idea of matching the hatch. In tenkara, one of the main concepts is that the presentation of the fly is much more important than the imitation of the fly. And I think part of that comes from the background of both methods of fly fishing, where western fly fishing might have been done, at least when it started being written about, almost as a philosophical endeavor, as a leisure, as a sport. Tenkara was being done by commercial anglers in the mountain streams of Japan, really, more people concerned about catching fish than thinking about how to catch fish in a certain way. And that difference in the origins of the two methods, I think is really important because it tells us the people doing it for fun, as a leisure kind of way, to study things.

When they got home, they just tied a bunch of flies, and they experimented a whole lot to see if something would work better than another. And that kind of legacy has lived on where we might get home and we tie flies that… And then we go back and then experiment with the fly, see what works, we can second guess ourselves, we had the luxury of time. The commercial angler, he got home, if he lost a few flies, he had to tie some more but he just wanted to tie the simplest flies that he could. Something quick and simple, that he knew had a really good chance to working. And when he came to time on the water, the difference was also very important because the commercial angler had to catch a lot of fish for a living. And he was not very interested in second guessing his fly choice all the time. So he kept one fly on. And he might have tried playing with a fly in a certain, in different ways on the water. But he was not gonna be interested in taking the fly out of the water, clipping the line that was hard to replace, and putting a new fly on, and that kind of thing. Second guessing essentially every single fly choice if he didn’t catch a fish every few minutes.

So the approaches were a little different. One person, maybe in Europe would have sat on a pool, cast one fly a few times. If that didn’t produce, maybe he would have tied the next invention. If that didn’t produce, he would have probably stayed in the same pool, tied the next one. Whereas in Japan, a commercial angler, he would have tied one fly on and try a few casts in a pool, if that pool didn’t produce a fish, it’s probably a little bit more effective for him and he didn’t have to waste materials as well, if he took a few steps upstream, try the next pool, see if the next fish is gonna be willing to take the fly.

But let’s talk a little bit about entomology and how that all comes in place here. And it’s something that I’ve thought about a fair amount, and it’s good actually that I have a little bit of a background in the western fly fishing, match the hatch background. And then I kinda switched over to the tenkara approach of keeping the fly in the water as long as I can, not switching flies very often. So when it comes to entomology a lot of times we might be concerned with the shape on the flies and what are the flies that are hatching today, what are the flies that we can see underwater, what are the flies that are fluttering around in the air, is there any fly that is more prolific today than another and then we go on about the imitating the shape of the fly primarily but one of the jokes that a friend of mine mentioned in terms of trying to match the fly, trying to tie a fly that looks very similar to the bugs out there for example, he’s like when you start tying flies that are very in a way realistic and trying to be very careful about imitating bugs perhaps you tie a mayfly that has to have little tails like sticking out on the back and you go there on your vice and you start putting three little tidbits of nylon imitating those three little tails that kind splay out but then you kind of forget that there’s a big old hook sticking below that so that will be like a fourth tail and we tend to ignore things that are not very convenient sometimes.

But in entomology kind of try to imitate the shapes of bugs and that kind of thing, sizes, shapes, colors, texture those all work but one thing that is really interesting and where entomology I think kind of is neat to understanding both of the Western fly fishing as well as a tenkara world is the difference is that in Western fly fishing a lot of times we will focus a lot on the shapes, sizes and colors and in tenkara even if they’re not trying to a lot of times I think having a little understanding of what the bugs are doing underwater allows us to imitate motion perhaps so that’s where I think tenkara or can use a little bit of knowledge of entomology even if we kinda keep that one fly philosophy and what I mean by that is for example, if you see a mayfly fluttering around in the air and you can notice something in the air too, sometimes you see this little tiny bugs flying around and it’s hard to tell is that a mayfly, is that caddis fly until you see one up close but for example, one difference when they’re flying is that a mayfly is gonna be flying in straighter lines whereas a caddis is gonna be fluttering around in more erratic ways and the same thing and the same kind of thing happens underwater where certain bugs are gonna be behaving in different ways underwater, they’re gonna swim in different ways, they’re gonna cling to rocks and plants and branches and they gonna…

Sometimes they’ll drift down in different ways and they’ll try to come to the shore or trying to go to the surface so there’s a concept that a lot of times I think gets ignored which is the idea of knowing what motion the bugs are doing so I don’t believe very strongly in the idea that fish are very picky about the shape, size and colors of the flies, I do think shape is so much important but what tenkara has taught me is that to pay a little bit of attention to motion and in one of the previous episodes of this podcast and we have a video about that as well. I introduced you to the concept of different techniques that we use in tenkara so just as a recap, one of the primary techniques that we use is what we call the dead drift, you cast the fly upstream at least a little bit and you let the fly drift along with the current, you can actually cast a fly downstream closer to you and let the fly drift with the current as you start lowering the fly, if that doesn’t work maybe we try different techniques, we might try pulsating the fly, so we cast a little bit of a quarter upstream as the fly goes downstream, you start pulsating the fly, kinda like twitching the fly up and down.

If that doesn’t work you might try something a little different, you might try for example, just having the fly drift and then you stop the fly and then let it drift and stop it for a second, drift and stop. Or you might just stop the fly in a certain place for two or three seconds, make it move to a different spot and make it stop there for a couple of seconds and so forth.

So when I introduced you to those techniques I don’t think I talked so much about the what we’re trying to do here because it’s in all frankness it’s probably not super important for you to know, it’s kinda neat to know but I think it’s… When you’re actually fishing you kind of experiment with those techniques and see what is triggering a fish today. But essentially what we’re doing is kind of imitating different bugs and different life cycles of bugs as they’re behaving underwater or on the water so for example, a mayfly when you see it underwater and I’ll give a shout out to my friends Ralph and Lisa Cutter on this podcast, if you’re interested in seeing and learning tons about how bugs behave underwater especially look at their website, the or search for “Bugs of the Underworld” it’s a award-winning film that they put together showing all kinds of bugs underwater and they also shows trout and that kind of thing but showing the bugs what they’re doing underwater, how they’re behaving that’s kinda like… I’ll try to look for a preview of their film but that’s kind of the key concept here, so if you look at bugs underwater, they are all behaving in different ways, you’re gonna see certain nymphs that are gonna be like swimming kind of upstream.

Just imagine for example, for a moment, you have a nymph on the rock; if you get a rock on the stream, oftentimes you turn it and you get a rock from underwater, you turn it and you’re gonna see some nymphs. You’re gonna see some kind of insects clinging onto the rock. At a certain stage of the life cycle, they might get away from the rock and they might start swimming towards the surface to hatch. And what you might see underwater is gonna be all kinds of different things, but you might see, for example, one of those nymphs trying to come up to the surface, which might be three feet away, and these are tiny little bugs; they don’t have tons of energy, and they’re gonna be, like, swimming in different kind or patterns, and they might look like they’re kind of pulsating their bodies up, but they get tired, enough food in, and then all of a sudden they let the drift… The currents drift their bodies downstream as they recoup some of their energy, and then they are gonna pulse upstream again and drift, and then they’re gonna pulse upstream until they get to the surface, and they might drift one more time to kind of regain that energy. And eventually they get to the surface, hopefully without being eaten before that happens.

But that’s kind of something kind of similar to the idea of pulsating the fly as it kind of goes downstream. You have this kind of life cycle, or this life stage of the bug, as it pulses towards the surface. Or, you might see certain bugs that are gonna be desperately trying to get to the shore; you might see a stonefly nymph, for example, trying to kind of crawl towards the shore, and you might do what is like a pulling technique, pulling the fly towards the shore. A caddis for example, like, how many of you have ever skated a fly on the surface of the water? It’s absolutely a great technique for tenkara, but a caddis, as it tries to get separated from the film of the water, that there’s a surface tension, you might kind of start fluttering, kind of trying to get the water droplets off its wings, and it’s gonna kind of skate until he can break free and fly, flutter away. Oftentimes, if you ever see a big caddis hatch, you’re gonna see bugs kind of like stay on the surface film, but you can get your fly out there, and I’ve actually had a great experience about the… Happening a couple of years ago where Dr. Ishigaki was actually visiting me here in Colorado, and we were out…

It was actually a large group of us, we were seven people fishing on the Colorado River. It was a very bright sunny day and very, very slow fishing even though there’s a lot of fish in that particular piece of water… Kind of like one or two fish among the seven of us pretty much the entire day. And the only thing that we could all kind of agree on that as being kind of making the fishing harder was the fact that it was very sunny and bright, and we just all said that if the clouds came in we would probably be good. And sure enough, right at around the time when we were all thinking about turning around and driving back to Boulder, some cloud cover came in. And the first thing I noticed was some bugs kind of flying in erratic motions in the air, and then I looked closer on the water and I noticed a few of these bugs were kind of like clung on to the surface of the water skating, essentially, and I started seeing rises happening slowly. And it was kind of neat to know what was going on at that point, and just kind of having a little bit of that entomology background, and realizing right away that these were caddis’ that came out as soon as the shadows of the clouds came in, and they started trying to break free from the water, and the trout started at first kind of subtly taking the flies, but all of a sudden they were exploding on those flies.

And as soon as I noticed that and I caught a fish, and somebody else caught a fish, and then I noticed it, what was happening, and I told Dr. Ishigaki, and I told everybody else in the group, I was like, “Hey guys, there’s a caddis hatch going on; just try skating your fly on the surface.” And the size of those bugs was about a size 12, so we didn’t really have to switch flies. But it was the coolest experience; we started skating the flies on the surface, and everybody in the group was hooking fish left and right, and we had multiple doubles, meaning two people caught fish at the same time, and that was like one of the best afternoons or evenings of fishing pretty much I’ve ever had. And the clouds stayed on for probably about an hour, and as soon as the sun came back out, the caddis hatch kind of slowed down and the fish stopped taking, at least on the surface. But it was absolutely phenomenal to kind of know how and kind of understand a little bit of this relationship between entomology, understanding bugs, and making my fly fishing a little bit more effective.

And I think that’s kind of like one of the things we could all be a little bit more effective on if we understand a little bit more about our surroundings. I honestly, after doing a lot of the Match the Hatch for years, I don’t think matching the hatch is important, but understanding the motion of bugs underwater is really cool, and it’s something that I should probably study a little bit more, kind of understand like the… What bugs might be observed underwater, and how they are swimming underwater. I’ve done a little bit of diving with, or snorkeling, with Ralph and Lisa in California and saw some bugs kind of doing interesting things; probably something that I should do a little bit more often, but if you have a little bit of a curiosity about bugs and how they behave underwater, and I think it could improve your fly fishing with tenkara especially as we’re not switching flies very much, look up their video Bugs of the Underworld, and you’re probably gonna get a few clues of things that you can do underwater. But that’s kind of where the understanding of bugs, and then understanding techniques for tenkara comes in handy.

There’s a relationship between the two. I have not and my teachers have never really made that clear or talked much about it. It’s almost like an intuitive thing that we’re doing. If you think of a bug… When I started fly fishing, I would think like, “Oh, how can I make my fly look more like a bug in the water? How can I shake it in different ways?” And I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just following some weird intuition, but I think now I know that that intuition comes from somewhere, ’cause we all see bugs out there and we all see them doing all kinds of things. We have an understanding that to entice fish we may wanna make our flies look buggy. Now, the next question is, “How do we make you look very buggy in terms of matching the bugs that are currently hatching and swimming underwater in different seasons and make that motion very realistic?”

So that’s a little question for you, just learn a little bit more about bug motion underwater. I think that’s way more important than imitating the shape of a particular bug is to understand the motion and then try to match that with techniques that you can use with your tenkara rod. So that’s my thoughts for the day. I feel like I started off a little cold and got a little bit warmer here. I did this episode without any notes today. I just had some thoughts going in my mind, and I appreciate your patience as my thoughts became, hopefully, a little bit clear as I covered this topic of entomology and tenkara, but I thought I’d share that with you ’cause I’ve been thinking a little bit about it. Now that it’s summer and there’s a lot of mosquitoes up in the air, it’s something that just came to me.

In any case, thanks again for tuning in to the Tenkara Cast, and I hope to see you again for the next episode. And if you haven’t seen our previous episodes, we have over 30 episodes right now. All kinds of things that I cover on this podcast. Take a look at previous episodes, see something that you like if you haven’t been listening to them. And if you have any questions, email us Send us a message on Facebook or Instagram, just look us up at Tenkara USA, and I’ll try to answer any questions that you might have in the next episode here and until next time on the Tenkara cast.

And as always, I’d like to thank our friend Nick Ogawa Takénobu. You can find his music at I’ll put a link on our website. This is a song called Fishing. I think very appropriate. It’s a song that made me learn about his work and totally fell in love with his music ever since. Thank him for letting us share his music here in the podcast. Take a look, he’s got four beautiful albums on his website, so enjoy the rest of the song and listen to it on your next drive when you go fishing.

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3 Responses to Short Cast: Entomology and tenkara

  1. Ron says:

    Great video on mayfly entomology

  2. John Purcell says:

    Great presentation do some more.

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