In an ever-expanding universe of fishing tackle, trends, and techniques, one method has arrived that allows you to immediately pick up something truly new-tenkara. Derived from the tactics used by Japanese commercial fishermen, which called for inexpensive and efficient methods, tenkara is a model of simplicity.
With tenkara, you have a telescoping rod, an inexpensive braided level line, and an artificial lure that is simply a light trout hook dressed in thread, feathers, and fur. You cast this fly and line with the long rod, but you have no reel with which to retrieve the line or a fish. Its closest cousin in the U.S. might be cane-pole fishing though tenkara is an active method of catching fish primarily in moving water.
The most common question that Daniel Galhardo–founder of Tenkara USA (tenkorauso.com), the first company to introduce tenkara tackle outside of Japan–hears at fishing shows is: How do you reel in a fish if you don’t have a reel?
“I answered that recently by giving a tenkara rod to a six-year-old in the audience and asked him how he would land a fish. The kid simply lifted the rod to his shoulder and angled it back behind him. It’s simple.
“It’s a pole with a fly on the end,” he explains. “Go to a stream, and within five minutes you’re casting. It’s a great method for mountain streams, for people who hike back into the backcountry for some solitude. Or you can catch crappies and bass in warm water.”
It’s roughly the same motion as fly-casting with 2 o’clock on the backcast and 10 o’clock on the forecast to load and unload the rod, though you can also simply flip out the line, sidearm. Really, there are no style points. With the long whippy rod and light line, the presentation is inherently delicate–you can’t really pile up or botch a cast the way you can with the conventional weight-forward fly line.
The rod also bends deeply and cushions the tippet when you’re fighting a fish. Galhardo says that trout from 12 to 22 inches are the “sweet spot” size for this tackle. “It takes getting used to fighting the fish, grabbing the line, and netting or grabbing the fish, especially with a long line” he adds.
The recommended furled tenkara line gets stored on a plastic spool when you’re not fishing but I substituted 20 feet of 70-pound fluorocarbon at the end of my 13-foot tenkara rod, and it cast beautifully with one backcast or a roll-cast. In sum: Don’t worry about the cast; you’ll figure it out. Keep it simple. All it takes is some open-mindedness–and a rod without a reel.
HOW IT’S DONE
TENKARA AT A GLANCE
A 3-ounce telescoping rod, 12 feet to 14 feet 7 inches, packs down into a rod tube about 2 feet long and costs $180.
Two types of lines are used. Traditional tenkara line is actually a furled and tapered line. Originally made of twisted horsehair, the line is now made of modern materials such as monofilament and Kevlar. The other type of line is level line, a special fluorocarbon used for its heavier weight and density that makes it possible to cast.
- LANDING FISH
1. Direct the fish to calm water.
2. Keep your rod arm close to your body to better control the fish.
3. Angle the rod so the tip is pointing back behind your body.
4. Reach out, grab the line, and hand-line in the fish.