When I started Tenkara USA 5 years ago, I knew that tenkara fishing was destined to take off. Teaching tenkara through these years has taught me that people are hungry for simplicity and connection to our environment. Tenkara created a revolution in the fly fishing industry by improving the way people fish and changing the way they think about and teach fly-fishing. We are always excited to see more people learning about tenkara and want to welcome Patagonia to the tenkara community. Whether you’re a large company or one person teaching a buddy how to cast, you are spreading tenkara and that’s what we love!
A big part of why we exist is to get more people fly-fishing, simply. And, we believe the simplest way to fly-fish is to look at the tenkara anglers in Japan, which is what we have done for the last 5 years with innovative rod designs and sharing techniques.
If you are intrigued by tenkara, then you’ve come to the right place. Here are some highlights about the tenkara story and techniques to get you started. We hope that you will dig into our resources and let us know if you have any questions or want to learn something specific.
1) How to cast with tenkara
Tenkara casting does not have to be fanciful. It is super simple actually. Here’s a good video on how to cast with a tenkara rod:
2) How to setup your tenkara rod
3) Main techniques for tenkara
Here are the 6 main techniques I have learned from tenkara anglers in Japan to help you entice fish.
Ever wonder how simple fly-fishing really can be? Tenkara fishermen in Japan don’t even change flies! Seriously. This is the hardest concept for most fly anglers to embrace, but by far the most liberating. Over the last several years we have followed this philosophy, and have not lacked for fish. Learn more about how to use only one fly and simplify all the way!
6) How to Tie a Tenkara Fly
And, of course, we invite you to continue perusing our blog. We have some great posts and videos accumulated over the years, such as this one combining canyoneering and tenkara fishing, or this “Tenkara Diary” video of spending time with one of the tenkara masters in Japan, or this story about the last commercial tenkara angler in Japan.
Here is a small tip that may help you in casting with your tenkara rod. It surprisingly makes a big difference in the cast. Having a hand fully gripping the rod makes the cast very “stiff”, all feels stiff this way. When you relax your grip and support the tenkara rod grip toward the edge of your palm all seems to work way better. Thanks John Geer for observing and pointing this out.
We have put out a lot of videos since our inception in 2009. 88 to be exact. Here are 5 videos we think you must watch to learn tenkara, tenkara fly-tying, or just for your entertainment as the cold weather sets in:
1) How to cast with tenkara:
2) Tenkara Techniques:
3) Tenkara Pronunciation Guide:
4) Tenkara Knots:
4B) You may also want to watch this video on my “one knot”, used for tippet to level line and fly to tippet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eemGKr-GYrE
5) How to tie a tenkara fly:
6) Landing a larger fish on tenkara and long line:
7) Tenkara and Canyoneering
In this video Daniel Galhardo, founder of Tenkara USA, shares six basic presentation techniques for tenkara. These techniques were taught to Daniel directly from the main tenkara anglers in Japan, namely: Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, Sakakibara Masami, Katsutoshi Amano and Yuzo Sebata. After learning and understanding the Japanese tenkara techniques, Daniel has synthesized the knowledge and developed them into a system of tenkara techniques listed below, which he uses when teaching clinics around the world.
1) Dead-drift: allow the fly to naturally drift with the current
2) Pausing: move the rod tip upstream from the fly to pause the fly in place for a couple of seconds in spots where fish are likely to be, such as in front of rocks.
3) Pause-and-Drift: Put the rod tip upstream from the tenkara fly to pause it for a second or two, then let it drift, pause it again, let it drift.
4) Pulsing: with a rhythmic motion move your fly up and down, making the tenkara fly pulse with life. The tenkara fly will open its hackle when you pull it, but close a bit when you relax it.
5) Pulling: this is a bit like using your fly as a streamer, where you will impart a lot of action. Part of the tenkara line must be in the water to serve as an anchor as you pull the tenkara fly across or upstream about 1 1/2ft at a time. It is particularly useful in faster or higher water conditions.
6) Plunging: This is a technique that may be combined with any of the previous 5 techniques and is used to help sink your fly without using any weight, using currents instead. Cast upstream from a place where the water drops, plunges or gets channeled between rock, as the fly hits the part where the water is more turbulent, let some of the line into the turbulence to take it down. If you’re doing it correctly and hitting a good spot, your line will seem to stop for a couple of seconds, then it may move in circles a bit, and then it will move downstream, typically fairly deep. The best way to learn this technique in particular is to go out and try fishing without weight and observe what currents do to your fly.
These techniques are the foundation of tenkara. The best way to learn them and improve on them is to go out and give them a try. There is no right or wrong in terms of how much you should move your fly, how long you should pause the tenkara fly, etc. However, in the video I do share a couple of tips that will prove useful, especially: when pulsing the fly avoid having a lot of erratic movement and focus on an easy rhythm that will allow fish to take the fly. When dead-drifting across or a bit downstream, try starting with your arm close to your body then extend it out and downstream to create a better drift.
Tenkara is simple fly fishing; these techniques for tenkara are most effective used a tenkara rod, but may also be tried with rod and reel. The tenkara techniques above, presented as they are here are a system of techniques copyrighted by Daniel Galhardo and Tenkara USA.
If you missed the first video in the series of tenkara foundations, here is the video on how to cast with tenkara:
A few years ago I went fishing with a friend. After a few hours my water bottle was empty. Yet, in a twist of irony 350 cubic feet of water passed by me every second. He smiled, pulled out his bottle and gave me a sip of his precious water. I noticed the bottle was full, and it also had something inside. “It’s a water filter. Never run out of water!”, he said. GENIUS!
For someone who spent so much time in the water, it baffled me that I hadn’t come to that solution sooner by myself. For years I’d either run out of water and tough it out for a bit ; or I’d simply drink water directly from the stream I was fishing. If I was fishing high elevation water I never thought twice before taking a sip from the stream. Not the smartest idea in the world, I know. I know it because after years of drinking from streams, yet never having any symptoms, I finally asked my doctor to get tested for Giardia. I told him I often drank directly from streams which could have giardia and never used hand sanitizers. He gave me a dirty look but prescribed the tests. Sure enough, I had giardia. Never a symptom, I was just a carrier.
To a minimalist who doesn’t like carrying a backpack, but who is usually out long enough to require more than a “mere” 8 cups of water, the small water filter was like discovering fire for the first time. Immediately after fishing I went and bought myself a water bottle with a nifty filter built in. More often than not I am also surrounded by water, so it isn’t a matter of supply. It is a matter of clean supply.
I wasn’t crazy about the bottle solution. It was bulky and difficult to carry. Luckily the filter didn’t last me very long, so I did some more research and came across the minimalist’s water filtration dream. Straw-type water filters that I could put in my pocket when not hiking far, or couple to a water bottle if I was going to be away from the water for any period of time. The straw filters allow me to drink directly from the stream whenever I needed, and are very compact.
So, in case you’re looking for a solution not to run out of water again, carry a small water filter with you.
My preferred filter at the moment is the Aquamira Frontier Pro. They run only about $20, are only as thick as the handle of your tenkara rod, but 7 inches long. If will be hiking for any period of time I couple it with a flat bladder. My preferred one at the moment is the Platypus Softbottle, 0.5L for most of the time, 1L for slightly longer hikes. Often I just leave the bladder folded in case I need it, but drink directly from the stream otherwise.
We like to say that all you need to fly fish is a rod, line and fly. And, to a large extent that is very true. That really is all you need.
But what about the other stuff that will make things more comfortable, more accessible, or more effective? Like waders, for example?
Should you wear waders?
We can tell you that you do not need to wear waders to fish. In fact, leaving the waders behind and going in with whatever one is wearing, or trying to stay out of the water a bit more, can be great way to reduce the load. Like the reduction in gear brought about by tenkara, leaving the waders behind can feel liberating. However, waders can open up water that is difficult to fish without waders. On a long day out they can provide a lot of comfort, and depending on the weather and terrain they may be a necessary thing to avoid coming close to hypothermia.
If you’re just getting into the world of fly-fishing and contemplating whether you should invest the money for a pair of waders (as low as $50 for cheap hip waders, or $600 for a good pair of waders and wading boots), here are a few considerations I usually keep in mind.
The first thing that comes to my mind when deciding whether to wear waders or not is my intent for the day. Am I going mushroom hunting or backpacking and fishing on the side if I find a good pocket? Or, is fishing the primary reason I’m going out? If my primary intent is to fish, I’ll wear waders. Even if I have a side of me that really likes to rough it, I also like to be comfortable when I can. If I’ll be spending a lot of time in the water, and I want to focus on fishing waders will make me comfortable and will open up a lot of new water. Plus, I admit I’m not crazy about getting my undies wet if I have to cross a deep pool, even if it is hot out there.
But, if the focus is on other activities and tenkara is the secondary goal, then I often leave the waders behind. Nothing says “simple fly-fishing” and “I’m just that cool”, like posing with a pair of torn-up jeans and sneakers.
Seasons and Weather
Winter is fast approaching. Those of you who are going fishing right now are noticing the water and air temperatures dropping. If you plan on fishing during the winter, then waders are a must. I have fished in the winter time wearing my skiing clothes when my primary intent was backcountry skiing. But, when you spend enough time near the water, you’re bound to get wet. And, getting wet when it is freezing out there not only feels “uncomfortable”, but can be outright dangerous with hypothermia a real possibility. So, wear waders and warm socks, and another pair of warm socks, and warm underwear…
If it is summer and it is warm out, not wearing waders is a good way to go. If the weather is hot and you are not going to be in the water for most of the time, then no matter how breathable your waders are they will feel very hot. In that case, think about intent and terrain. You can go either way in the summer. Some opt to wear wading boots with some neoprene socks and “wet-wade” when the main intent is fishing. This past summer I worn some fast-drying shoes fairly often when going hiking and fishing on the side. Your choice.
And, of course, if it is really really hot out, swimming-wear may be the way to go (bonus: without a reel you can fish at the same time you swim!).
Terrain also comes into play on making the decision. In most streams you can fish from the shore, or fish well by hopping rocks. In lakes you can certainly fish from the shore.
But, some streams seem to call for waders. In particular, I like to wear waders in three types of places:
Streams that have a lot of trees and brush on the shores but a relatively open canopy in the middle. In these waters, which I admit may be a lot of waters, wearing waders allows you to fish in the middle of the stream and casting mostly upstream. By being in the water you can more easily avoid getting caught on trees behind you.
Larger rivers that have fewer features (e.g. boulders). Wearing waders will allow you get a little closer to the parts of the river you think the fish will be. Of course, you can fish from the shore very effectively in many parts of these rivers. But, once in a while you’ll come across a bend on the river where the riverbed is very shallow close to you, but there is a great looking whirlpool or something on the other side. Wading closer may mean getting your pants and underwear wet, waders will keep that from happening.
Canyons. If I’m fishing a relatively steep canyon I may end up being in the water a lot. And, sometimes I’ll be forced to cross the stream many times as large obstacles keep me from staying the course. So, waders will be a good thing to wear.
Though, of course, if the canyons are steep enough I may just opt for a full wetsuit.
This new video will show you the foundations of how to cast with tenkara. This tenkara casting video is long overdue but I hope it will help you as you work on perfecting your tenkara casting.
This is the first of a new series of videos on tenkara techniques I’m currently working on. There have been many suggestions on things folks would like to learn (such as how to fish in tighter streams). We’ll be working on those. If there are things you’d like to learn, please let me know here. – Daniel
by John Geer
Pulsing flies has become one of my favorite techniques to use with a tenkara rod, but the idea of imparting motion to flies was very strange to me after having the importance of a dead drift pounded into me for so long. Luckily, I was able to watch Daniel and Dr. Ishigaki catch many fish using this technique and made it a point to add it to my own bag of tricks. Here are some points I’ve learned that I hope will help you:
Distance – This concerns the distance of your hands and rod tip from your body. Try not to over reach or you’ll have no cushion when a fish takes the fly which can cause break offs. This is true anytime you’re fishing tenkara, but becomes more important with the aggressive takes that pulsing sometimes brings on. Don’t work the fly too close to you or you’ll find it hard to set the hook and control the fly. Find the sweet spot for the line and rod you’re fishing.
Rhythm – Trout almost always feed in a rhythm, just watch them rise sometime. Flies pulsed in a rhythmic fashion may not entice more strikes, but will lead to more solid hook ups. Slow usually works best for me, but on any given day the rhythm can change.
Angle – I usually like to cast down and slightly across when I pulse flies. Some very good anglers like to work more downstream. Casting flies upstream and pulsing them back to you can make hook sets difficult. Find your own sweet spot on angle, but remember that sometimes you’ll just have to work with what the situation offers.
Grip – A lot of the time, you’ll want to lay a small amount of your casting line on the water during the rest between pulses. You may not need to do this if you’re fishing a large and/or heavy fly, but it will help you keep from over working the standard size sakasa flies many of us fish. You’ll learn to adjust the grip you use with the rhythm and angle you’re fishing, along with the current speed.
Taking the first letter of all of these spells out DRAG, which helped me remember this while doing the video. I hope it helps you solve some problems on your next fishing trip, and I hope that trip comes soon.
[Daniel’s notes: the concept of pulsing or manipulating tenkara flies is very simple, yet the tips above will help you improve hook-up rates. The main “mistakes” I see when teaching folks how to pulse their tenkara flies are that they just erratically move their tenkara rod with no rhythm, and as a result miss a lot of fish. Also, fishing too close or too far from their bodies, which translates into lack of control. John did a terrific job at summarizing them in the video and points above].
After 2 decades of using an improved clinch to tie my fly to tippet, I decided to give a new knot a real try. This knot was taught to me by Dr. Ishigaki a couple of years ago, but being so used to tying the improved clinch it was difficult to change. Then, while doing some instructional filming for an upcoming DVD and trying to find ways to simplify tenkara instructions , I was inspired to use this knot. It seems to be a slight variation of the Scaffold Knot, with two loops rather than 3, I will call it a “double-loop slip knot”. It is the exact same knot as tippet to level line, and very similar to the level line to rod tip knot. It is very quick to tie, and as I have found out it is a super strong knot. I have not yet lost a single fly to poor knots (that includes fishing with one fly and not replacing tippet at all for 2 1/2 days of fishing on a backpacking trip where I caught over 40 fish on it, and a subsequent trip with multiple 18-22″ fish).
If you’re looking into a new knot, or are new to fly-fishing and want a simpler set of knots, give this one a try. It has become my “one tenkara knot”.
Over the last several days we have held a company retreat here in Boulder. We decided to get our team together in person to discuss future strategy and product development. One of the goals of his time here was to create better line management solutions. We spent quite a bit of time analyzing options and how things worked and what things we wanted to solve. As we observed very closely how line holders are used, we came across some interesting insights. One of these insights was how one user was getting horrible line twisting, yet I (Daniel) never experienced line twisting problems at all when using the tenkara line holder. We asked ourselves why and started observing what was happening at every level of detail we could. Then it hit me that while the other user held the line between two fingers, I had been using my entire hand while winding the line. That was the only difference we could notice. And, it seemed that switching to using a whole hand actually helped with the line twisting problems some people may have.
I would like to hear your experiences with line holders and other line management systems. And, especially, I would really like to hear if you had problems with line twisting and were able to get rid of that by using the whole hand as I show in the video below.
Fish seek two things in particular: food and shelter. Both of these elements change in the winter, food becomes more scarce, and in many parts of the country so do their options for shelter. As temperatures drop, the stream will freeze; places for fish to hide change and so do the places with greatest food-generating potential. Undercuts by slower moving may get blocked by ice. But,
as global warming takes effect and we experience a 65 degree weather in January when it warms up, the ice opens up and reveals a new kind of structure that anglers can target: ice shelves.
Some time ago I was reading an article by Ralph and Lisa Cutter in California Fly Fisher. In the article, Ralph describes putting on his winter clothes and dry-suit and diving into a semi-frozen Sierra Nevada lake to observe fish and bugs underwater. He describes diving underneath the large ice-shelf to explore the unexplored parts of a frozen lake. I clearly remember the image of cave diving coming into my mind, but I physically felt very cold while reading his words. While I do not have the article to quote from, he describes finding a big concentration of bugs – midges I believe – right at the edge of the ice shelf. Food? Check.
Further, most streams and lakes will not freeze to the bottom. The ice that forms in the majority of parts will be a shelf, meaning there will be plenty of places to hide underneath. A predator coming from above would have to piece through the ice to get to the fish. Shelter? Check!
Areas where water is flowing into may stay open and are also likely to have a better amount of food coming in. For example, take a look at the foam line in the first picture below, on the opposite side of the stream, the amount of ice there is smaller despite the shadow. And, as they say “foam is home”, as it often indicates places of stronger turbulence that may have taken bugs down as the water plunged into the pool, or water with slightly faster velocity that carries with it some food.
I have also noticed fish cruising under ice in places with slower water. In multiple occasions I would see their shadows gliding below the ice. They would come out and often “sip” right by the edge of the ice shelves as in the picture below, reinforcing Ralph’s observation that there are bugs at the edge of the ice.
Can you spot the fish in the picture below? This was one fish I did not catch, on purpose. He was very close to the shore, a greenback cutthroat. I spotted him coming from below the ice and eating every time he stepped out of his protected ice cave. He seemed to sip down a bug every minute precisely. I just watched him, in awe, and somehow was able to resist the temptation to cast my fly to him. “Too easy” I thought. Plus, he was having it hard enough with little water that would soon freeze again. It is one of the few fish I have not cast a fly to but remember clearly. I still get as much joy from that memory as from any fish I have ever caught.
But, I couldn’t resist his neighbor…
We finally got some snow here in the new Tenkara USA home of Boulder, CO. And, with it, some very cold weather. The low tonight is expected to be a chilling 5°F! Salt Lake City, where I was tenkara fishing yesterday, is expecting a low of 18°F. Pittsburgh, PA, will see 32°F, as will Harrisonburg, VA.
This cold front has come right when I started reading about the International Didymo Conference. And, since I was travelling and fishing, I was also thinking about the spread of this nasty and invasive species. Didymo, if you’re not yet familiar with it, is a type of algae, also known as “rock snot”, which can spread very quickly and cover rocks on streams and have significant impact on the ecological balance of our favorite waters. It looks like “wet toilet paper” (though not usually white, unless it is getting dry). Its spread is most commonly blamed on our fishing equipment with the most common culprit being wading boots as there are many nooks where the algae can penetrate and then spread (though other equipment such as waders can also help spread it). Felt sole boots, in particular, are seen as the big scapegoat for the spread of didymo since they can remain moist for a long time and the pores can host the microscopic algae. But make no mistake, rubber-soled boots can also carry the stuff.
Part of the reason for the Conference, which will happen in March, is to figure out how to best stop the spread of the stuff. There are lots of advisories out there but not yet a silver bullet. The consensus for how we can all help is to clear our equipment thoroughly before going from one stream to another. But, ask 10 anglers the best way to clean the equipment and you may well get 10 different answers. I know this because I have asked at least 10 anglers how they clean their gear. Here is a good list of options.
The advise I paid particular attention to came from Ralph and Lisa Cutter, well-renowned anglers and creators of the highly acclaimed Bugs of the Underworld. The Cutters possess what I consider some of the most insightful knowledge of aquatic life, and when they gave me their answer I listened: “freeze it”, they told me.
As with anything, if it is not convenient to do, many of us will slack off and not do our part. It turns out, freezing is not only a highly-effective method of cleaning your gear off didymo but it is also a very convenient way of taking care of this mandatory chore.
In the warmer months I carry a large plastic trash bag with my fishing gear; at the end of a day of fishing I throw my boots in the plastic bag and as soon as I get home the bag goes straight into my freezer. Pretty easy as I do not have to deal with cleaning solutions and the risk of missing some of the didymo (though it helps if you have a mostly empty, or large freezer). Since hearing this advise I have religiously incorporated this chore into my coming home ritual: jacket on the floor, waders in the first empty space I see in the garage, rod on the couch, and wading boots straight into the freezer.
Now that I’m living in “cold country”, and the temperatures are in the freezing territory I decided I’d just throw boots right outside for the night and let nature take care of it for me. If you haven’t done this and were recently fishing, do us all a favor: put your boots out for the night, or if you’re not lucky to be in freezing territory right now (sarcasm here!), just throw it in the freezer for the night. That should be easy enough.
Written by Daniel
I have been sharing some good stuff on our Facebook page and thought I should also share them with you, our loyal blog reader. This post started out as a quick “here’s what happened” description of the picture below, and before I knew it, it was was one of my longest recent posts. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
This weekend I took a friend and her family tenkara fishing near Shaver Lake, CA. This was her Mayli’s first time EVER. I setup the rod for her, giving her just a quick overview of what I was doing, and told her 3 things:
1) First I pointed to the fly and asked her what it looked like. She responded it looked like a bug. So, I told her that fish like to eat bugs that are in the water, so that was how we were going to catch a fish.
2) Next I explained to her that fish will be in the water that looked deeper. And, that she was going to cast that fly to the water in front of her.
3) And, finally I told her one thing about casting as I demonstrated it: “you’ll move your arm like this, back and forth, and the fly will go to the spot – now, here, try it.”
I gave her the rod and let her try to figure it out on her own. In my experience teaching tenkara to kids, you tell them the objective and they will figure it out. It’s always the same, you give them a target, and at first the line starts out by falling right under the rod, but with every cast the fly starts going farther. As seems to be the norm, within 2 minutes she was casting the fly pretty close to where she wanted – with no further instructions from me.
At this point I held her hand and showed her how to make the cast better: “keep your arm close to your body so you don’t get tired; stop the rod tip straight above you when you move it back (she was going a bit farther back); and stop the rod tip a bit high when you go forward”. I cast with her some 5 times, to assist in her getting the muscle memory. From then on the fly was landing right where she wanted it.
We moved to the next fishy pool to start fresh and have a chance to catch a fish. Her casts in this pool were BEAUTIFUL! This was only about 5-6 minutes of fishing time, and she was getting the fly right where I pointed. Then I told her to keep the fly in the water a bit longer with every cast to give the fish a chance to eat the fly if they wanted. What came next was a big surprise to me. She started casting and leaving the fly in the water, and after a few casts she started making the fly dance in the water; she was pulsating it! I am not sure if she had seen me doing it, or just started playing it on her own. Regardless, that she did this on her own was remarkable.
THIS IS EXACTLY HOW IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE! INTUITIVE.
The other day I came across this great chart put together by Vlad Odnoshivkin, from the blog Tenkara in Siberia. It was too good not to share it more widely. It is very nicely done, beautiful to look at, and most importantly it quickly illustrates tenkara: how it can be used effectively to reach fish without being seen, how different line lengths can reach fish in different ways, and more. The “three people” on the left are images of Dr. Ishigaki in different fishing stances; the person on the far right is Mr. Sakakibara Masami. Enough said, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from it.