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!