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What is Tenkara Fly Fishing?

For those unfamiliar with Tenkara, it is a traditional Japanese method of fly-fishing. It reduces fly-fishing to three basic elements, a rod, a line and a fly. Used for centuries in Japan’s high mountain streams, Tenkara is all about simplicity, focusing on fishing rather than gear. Tenkara is fly fishing in a basic form, not a better way, just a different way.

Tenkara was introduced to the United States fly fishing community in 2009 (via the company Tenkara USA) and quickly surged in popularity to the point that today the number of Tenkara anglers in the U.S. rivals the number in Japan.

Most Tenkara rods are typically lightweight and relatively long (9′ to 15′), with a very flexible tip section. The specialized and extremely lightweight Tenkara fly line (usually lighter than even a 000-weight conventional Western fly line) is tied to the tip of the rod and generally measures between one and two times the length of the rod. About four feet of tippet is tied to the end of the line.  

Casting line with a Tenkara rod

The absence of a reel does not fundamentally change casting technique with a Tenkara rod. In fact, the first Western fly rods did not have reels, which are a relatively late invention in the history of the sport .A Tenkara rod is a fly rod. A Tenkara rod is designed to cast line in fundamentally the same manner as a Western fly rod. While the casting stroke is typically shorter (10 o’clock to noon is used as a starting point instead of 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock), the principles of casting are the same with both types of fly rods, and the fly line forms a similar “loop” in the air with both Tenkara fly rods and Western fly rods.  

Fly-fishing techniques with a Tenkara rod

Most Western fly-fishing techniques will work with a Tenkara rod. You can use a Tenkara rod as a tool to fish in just about any style you want — dry flies on the surface, wet flies such as British soft hackles under the surface, even Czech Nymphing or streamer fishing. A Tenkara rod is ideal for most of these applications (fishing an Elk Hair Caddis on a small stream), not so ideal for others (chucking large streamers).