Tenkara

I don’t remember where I first came across Tenkara, but I know that as soon as I did, I was quite enamored with the idea of it. In short, tenkara uses an extra long (normally 11 to 14 feet)  telescopic rod, with a fixed line and no spool. The line is attached directly to the end of the rod, and you use the length of the rod itself to provide reach/maneuverability rather than reeling out more line (and then stripping it back in again). After poking around a bit I’ve started following Tenkara USA (the first company to bring it to a wide audience in the US) quite closely to see what’s going on.

Tenkara is a very old, Japanese style of stream fishing which was used by commercial fishermen in the mountains. It’s very effective in smaller streams (vs big, wide, meandering flats rivers), and is ideally suited to Colorado-style fishing, where you’re mostly targeting 8-20″ trout. Fishing tenkara has a few other interesting twists, but the biggest (IMHO) is the focus on technique over equipment as far as flies/rigs go. Rather than encouraging complex rigs and continuously switching flies to try to find the perfect deception for where you’re fishing, tenkara encourages the use of one fly (or a small number of flies), and then focuses on different presentation techniques to trick fish into striking. There’s a certain allure to that simplicity, not least of which is avoiding having to buy (and know when to use) a bunch of different flies, knowing how to set up complex rigs, and all the wasted time re-tying things while on the water.

As mentioned in this previous post, I stopped by Orvis in Boulder (who also sell Tenkara USA equipment) to see Daniel Galhardo, the founder of Tenkara USA speak about tenkara fishing. He talked to a small group of us about the history, techniques and equipment, the types of fishing it’s suited to, how it differs from “western fly fishing”, etc. At the end of the presentation, we got to try out casting with a Tenkara USA rod (which is quite different from western casting), and then he also showed us how easy it is to tie a tenkara fly (pretty impressively so!).

Personally, there are a few things that draw me to tenkara:

  • Simplicity: I love how simple the set up is, and how it minimizes the reliance on having all the “right equipment”.
  • Portability: I really hate rigging up and retying my rod, so anything that can minimize my time spent doing that is welcome. Being able to collapse down the rod and spool up the line to get between fishing holes is really nice as well, and seems like it’d make hiking + fishing much more accessible.
  • Technique: The focus on technique over equipment is a nice concept to me — it makes it more about me vs a fish than it does about just putting the right fly on there and hooking something. If I wanted to win that easily, I’d just use bait. That being said… everyone loves to actually catch fish, so I hope I’m up to the challenge. The casting technique of tenkara is also nice, because it seems much easier to master, and while the western style back/forward cast is quite beautiful, it requires a lot of room and finesse that seems a bit overkill.

I’m now angling (pun intended) to get a tenkara set up for Christmas so that I can try it out.

Header image taken from this Tenkara USA blog post.

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