An excerpt from tenkara – the book
One does not have to go to summer camp or learn physics to learn how to fly cast, at least not with tenkara. Tenkara casting is very intuitive, and anyone can pick it up quickly. I often compare casting the tenkara line/fly with tossing a pebble at a target. Nobody has to teach you how to throw the pebble. You pick it up and your brain tells you what to do: lift the forearm up, then quickly move it down and release the pebble as your arm moves downward. The key is just to pick a target.
Your pebble may not always hit the tree the first time around. And there may be some tips others can share with you on how to get the pebble closer to your target. As long as you don’t overthink it and focus on your target, then you already know 90% of what you need to know to cast your fly where you think the fish will be.
I will cover the foundations of a tenkara cast. These foundations will help you make good, effortless, precise casts.
Some general notes about terms about casting a fly. In fly-casting, the back- ward motion—where you swing the rod tip up and toward the back to throw the line backward—is called the backcast. On the backcast you will have a very brief but well-defined stop at the vertical position. Then, you will quickly swing the forearm downward, stopping at roughly a 45-degree angle (2 o’clock position). This is called the forward cast.
While I will give you a good amount of in-depth and nuanced details about how to cast in this chapter, watching our casting video will take a couple of minutes and will give you most of what you need to know. It is definitely worth taking a couple of minutes to watch the video below
Sometimes there is a tip I can share here or there that can make a big difference. Usually it is pretty easy to get a hang of the casting, but occasionally there is something I can point out that I might have not covered in our videos, forgive me if these may be a bit repetitive but here are things I may have not covered well on my videos or perhaps one of these will help:
– Tapered lines will be easier to cast than level lines. If you’ve been struggling and you are using a level line, please give a tapered tenkara line a try.
– The back cast is the most important thing. Focus on throwing the line back more than on throwing it forward, the rod will take care of shooting the line forward
– Make sure to stop your back cast with the rod pointed up (12 o’clock). Having an index finger on top helps with that
– Keep the casting light. I know you mentioned you try it, but sometimes when trying to correct casting people will try going stronger/more forcefully and that doesn’t help
– But, the casting is fast (for timing of the cast see my videos).
– Keep the arm close to your body and relaxed. You’ll use a combination of arm and wrist.
– You mentioned having the tippet pile up in front of you. In my experience, the main cause for that is keeping the grip very firm at the end of the cast. My suggestion here is when you move to your forward cast and stop your rod pointed roughly at a 45 degree angle in front of you, relax your hand. This one usually goes a long way. It is a light opening of your hand as you come to a stop on the forward cast.
The best and most common way to hold a tenkara rod while casting is with the index finger on top. First, this grip makes it so that you will point to where you want to cast, adding to its intuitiveness. Further, holding the rod with an index finger on top of the handle has the advantage of making your rod naturally stop at a vertical position (12 o’clock), which exactly where it needs to stop on the backcast.
Try this little experiment: With your arm point- ing up at approximately 45 degrees in front of you and a pointed index finger, try bending your wrist back and see where it stops. You’ll notice
it will be pointing skyward when it stops.
Now, compare that with having a thumb point forward and bending your wrist; your thumb will point back behind you, and your rod tip would be on the trees.
Another grip you can use is a V-grip, which looks a bit like pinching the sides of your rod handle. This will also allow for your backcast to stop at the desired vertical position. With this grip I miss having the support and strength of my index finger on top of the rod, but I will occasionally switch to it if my hand or arm starts getting tired and I want to use different muscles.
The grip should be relaxed. A tight grip on the handle, especially at the end of your forward cast, will mean your hand will not absorb the oscilla- tion of the rod and the line will often be wavy as it approaches the water rather than stretch out in front of you.
One easy way to accomplish that is to place your thumb closer to the index fin- ger (or even off the handle) and to support the rod handle with the part of your palm below the pinky finger rather than immediately below the index finger.
In tenkara there is no reel telling you where to hold your rod, so you can really hold the rod anywhere.
The best spot to hold the rod is right at the very end of the grip, with
your hand supported by the butt end of the rod. This will give you a longer lever and make casting effortless. It is important to choose a rod with a rounded handle end to ensure comfortable gripping in this position.
As you move the hand up, the rod will feel lighter. While I normally hold the rod at the end, I will sometimes “rest” my hand higher up on the grip.
Finally, in tight spots with more trees overhead you can hold the rod well above the handle, on the blank of the rod, to instantly have a shorter rod.
If you have ever been taught how to cast with a fly rod, you have likely been told, “Don’t break your wrist!” Just know you were not doing it wrong, but rather just that you are naturally a tenkara angler! In fact, it is important that you use the arm and wrist together to cast well and effortlessly.
Everyone naturally bends their wrist back when learning how to fly cast. That is a nat- ural motion for our arms to follow. Luckily, a good tenkara cast will use the wrist, too.
The basic cast will consist of bending the elbow to move the forearm up about 2–3 inches rapidly, and then allowing the wrist to bend naturally so that the index finger points up to the sky.
Moving the arm is what will give your
rod the speed necessary to shoot the line back, while the natural wrist break will make the rod flex (load) and unflex to shoot the line out forward for you.
Using only the arm while keeping a stiff wrist makes the cast more laborious and will make it harder to cast longer lines.
At the same time, if you use only the wrist you may not generate enough speed and your wrist will start getting tired and possibly sore or even injured after a full day of casting.
Speed and Power
The backcast is the foundation of a good tenkara cast. It is the part of the cast that will make the rod load and work for you by propelling the line forward on your forward cast.
It is very important that the backcast be executed with speed. Often people want to move the rod back slowly and then try to throw the line by moving the arm forward fast and forcefully. This doesn’t work very well. In fact, the opposite is usually the best: a fast backcast with a very quick but well-defined stop, and then a relatively slow forward cast (when casting against wind, the forward cast will also be fast).
If your cast is not going where you want it to, it is likely due to a backcast that is too slow or hesitant. I will cover some common casting problems later, but generally if the fly is not going far, put more speed and less hesitation on the backcast.
Now, there is a difference between speed and power. A frequent problem I see with people’s casting is that they put too much power into their cast. This is particularly true with those coming from a western fly-fishing background where the lines are heavy. The tenkara cast requires minimal effort. My main advice is to cut your power in half, and then halve it again. Make the rod work for you. But, to make it work you need to move it quickly, albeit lightly, on your backcast.
While you can cast off your sides and in any direction you want, it’s best to have your whole body facing the direction you want your fly to go. Often times I have seen an angler’s cast improve dramatically just by rotating the body a couple of inches to directly face the target.
The basic tenkara cast will present the fly to the fish without your main line touching the water. This allows for good drag-free presentations (where the line is not dragged by currents between you and the fish). But it is okay to have tip- pet landing on the water too, and sometimes it is a good thing to have the tippet also land on the water along with the fly.
If you are having trouble getting the fly to land first, try one of two things. First, you can stop the rod tip a bit higher on the forward cast. Also, relax your grip slightly as you stop the rod on the forward cast, this will keep the line from bouncing back.
Alternatively, almost as soon as the fly is about to land, and after you have stopped the rod, lift the rod tip just a couple of inches and stop the rod there.
When fishing upstream, aim at having only the fly land first with just about no tippet or line touching the water. This allows for a very natural presentation where the fly will come downstream with the current. If you are trying to sink the fly, then after presenting the fly first slowly lower the rod tip to start getting line in the water. Keep up with the sinking fly while maintaining a tight line.
When fishing across currents (either directly across the stream, slightly upstream, or slightly downstream), aim to have the fly and about a foot or two of your tippet land at approximately the same time.
The reason to do this is because if the fly is the only thing that lands first, then the weight of the line will pull the fly slightly toward you the moment it lands; this would make for an unnatural presentation in the critical first couple of sec- onds after the fly has landed. Having a couple of feet of tippet land with the fly helps anchor the fly to the targeted area and keeps the fly from dragging back.
When fishing downstream it can go either way. I generally prefer to land my fly first when fishing directly downstream, but I have found that when present- ing the fly downstream, either fly first, or fly and tippet work fine. Typically
if I want to dead-drift the fly, I will present the fly first, but I may try different techniques and a fly plus tippet may be desired.