Techniques for tenkara

Learn the main tenkara techniques I have learned from teachers in Japan:
1) Dead-drift
2) Pausing
3) Pause-and-Drift
4) Pulsing
5) Pulling
6) Plunging (sinking)

May 24, 2014

Tenkara places more emphasis on technique rather than gear. One way to simplify is to reduce the number of fly choices and try different techniques.

In Japan I’ve had the chance to learn tenkara directly from some of the renowned masters of the method. Over the last 4 years I have used only one fly pattern all around the world while chasing trout, and I have successfully caught trout along the most experienced anglers in the country. I have synthesized techniques for tenkara and fly manipulation methods I have learned in this video:
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 chanelled 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.

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12 Responses to Techniques for tenkara

  1. Michaela says:


    I love the new format !

  2. Absolutely love the format. Was especially pleased with the clean white background. Daniel, you did a great job.

  3. Tom Johnson says:

    What is that preferred Tenkara fly you used for 4 years (as mentioned above)? I would like to purchase a few!


  4. bob says:

    Could you talk more about detecting a strike? That is the hardest part of Tenkara for me. Thanks!

    • Bob, will try to do something more thorough on detecting strikes. But, in the meantime, the main thing I can say is to keep a line that is tight, as opposed to slack in the water. This will always make it easier to see and react to fish. But, there are a few more things I want to cover in the future.

  5. Andrew says:

    Just landed my first fish on my new Tenkara rod and would love any tips on strike detection. Thanks!

  6. Duane Harper says:


    I have been fly fishing for over 40 years and just started Tenkara fly fishing this season. I think it will be an excellent way to start my grandchildren off fly fishing!
    My question is with an 8’6″ rod on very small streams, what is the shortest fly line you would suggest?

    • Hi Duane,
      For any rod we would recommend the shortest length of line be up to 2ft shorter than the rod, ideally up to 1ft shorter than the rod. So, with the Rhodo for example, which is 8’10” at the shortest length we’d recommend the line be about 5ft and the tippet about 3ft long. There are no formulas, so this is approximate suggestions for very short line fishing.

  7. Spencer Smith says:

    I have primarily relied on the dead drift, but I actually caught my first fish this summer with the fly paused/pulsing as I collapsed my rod to leave! I am excited to try pausing and pulsing more intentionally in the future. When you are fishing a spot, do you usually apply multiple techniques before moving on? How many times do you cast at a spot before moving on? Thanks!

    • Hi Spencer, I tend to vary my techniques a bit more when I start fishing a stream. That gives me a chance to see if there is a particularly attractive technique that day. As I go on, I typically cast on average 3 to a spot, meaning a particularly small area. In a mountain stream that might be 3 casts in a small pool, or maybe a dozen in a larger pool. If a spot is looking particularly fishy and I really have a hunch there is a fish there, then I might spend a bit more time and might try a couple of techniques to see if I can coax a fish out of it. But, sometimes I will spend some additional time in a pool, just because…But in general I figure a fish will likely grab in some of the earlier casts and it might be more efficient to cast the fly to another spot. Keep in mind, sometimes casting a just a few inches away from the spot you cast the first time might mean a different drift, or a drift in a different current and that could be the difference between a fish or no fish, so accuracy in the casting can play an important part in determining how many times you might want to try a particular spot. Hope this helps.

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