The strange case for Tenkara

They say “what is old is often new” and that is certainly the case with the trendy new type of fly fishing called “tenkara”. Tenkara is actually a centuries-old traditional Japanese form of fishing. And it has increased in the United States in recent years, especially among anglers who love trout fishing.

The rods used are generally longer than the standard fly rod (12 feet or more) and they are quite pliable for delicately presenting smaller fish (trout) in streams and creeks. Here’s the real kicker: the line is actually attached to the end of the rod itself and consists of a clear, braided leader that tapers into a fine monofilament single strand. The cord is only slightly longer than the pole itself. There are no guides on a Tenkara pole and no pulley attached to it.

Of course, the angler casting distance is limited to the length of the rod and line, and it is quite difficult to land the fish you are catching without the give and take of a reel. And that is exactly what makes tenkara fishing a breeze. Most fly anglers naturally take on challenges, otherwise we wouldn’t even take up the sport. Tenkara offers many challenges.

There is another notable appeal to Tenkara. I think a tenkara rod is the ideal teaching and training tool for the budding fly angler. No tangled fly line loops at your feet and no attempt to measure distances. You will feel the litter develop in a tenkara rod, and since your range is limited, you will naturally develop an ability to sneak up on fish and be stealthy when delivering flies. These traits pay off for a lifetime for fly fishermen (and women), perhaps as much as a good cast hit.

Tenkara rods also cost less than most fly rods and “telescope” to a size that can be easily stowed and dragged around. Of course, there are limits to the size of fish you can catch with a tarpon (although I’ve seen my friend Chris Hunt land a small pike and a fairly large lake trout on one, and I caught a small tarpon with a tarpon ). But that’s what it’s all about. If you can catch an 8 inch trout or bluegill and it feels like a whopper, things stay interesting. And if you study on the go, all the better.

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Kirk Deeter

Kirk Deeter is an editor at Field & Stream and co-wrote the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing with the late Charlie Meyers.

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