We always talk about how tenkara focuses more on the technique than gear, so much so that most experienced tenkara anglers don’t even change flies. But what exactly does relying on technique more than gear mean? What are the techniques used in tenkara? Daniel discusses the main techniques and fly presentations he uses to entice fish with a tenkara rod, line and fly.
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 channelled 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.
This is Daniel Gallardo and you’re listening to The Tenkara Cast, a podcast about the simple Japanese method of fly fishing, tenkara. In The Tenkara Cast, we’ll be sharing information on techniques, history, philosophy, and tenkara stories from anglers all over the world. This podcast is brought to you by Tenkara USA, introducing tenkara outside of Japan since 2009. It’s only possible we create content such as this podcast and videos because of your support. So we thank you so very much for purchasing Tenkara USA rods, lines and flies. I hope you enjoy learning more about this simple method of fly fishing.
Hey, tenkara anglers. Hope everyone is having a great fall fishing season. The fall is here. Here in Boulder, we are seeing the leaves changing colors. Right now, they’re bright yellow in some spots, red in others, and I know throughout the country we’re seeing pictures of just beautiful fall fishing where people are catching the most colorful fish and having a lot of really good times out there. The air is crisp and the water is cold, and I think this is one of those seasons that tenkara anglers rejoice in. There’s also fewer leaves for our flies to get caught on the trees behind you.
I’m really enjoying fall. I’ve been fishing here on and off as much as I can, and I was thinking the other day about techniques. I haven’t really talked about techniques here in the podcast yet. I’ve talked to… I had one episode about skill which was where I talked about vision, the ability to see things when you’re fishing. But in terms of techniques, specifically presenting the fly, I haven’t talked about that yet and I thought I’ll take a few minutes to talk about techniques today.
As some of you know, a lot of times we talk about how in tenkara, there is much less emphasis on the gear and much more emphasis on technique and presentation of the flies. There’s the whole concept of one fly where I’ve joked in previous episodes, where we never blame the fly because the fly that is in the water is the fly that’s gonna catch fish. And of course, there is also the idea of just really not worrying too much about what fly you’re gonna tie on. I should note, if you haven’t heard about this concept, it’s pretty intriguing. It’s something that caught my eye when I started learning about tenkara, and I learned that tenkara anglers in Japan, they’re not changing flies when they’re going out fishing, they’re typically sticking with one fly and working on their presentation and techniques to entice fish. And a combination of that with the kinds of presentations that tenkara anglers are gonna use to entice fish is what I wanna talk to you about today.
A long time ago I heard somebody using the term, “the dogma of the drag-free drift” or “the dogma of the dead drift.” And what he was referring to, and I honestly don’t remember exactly who used that term, right now I wish I did, but he was talking about how in fly fishing, a lot of times people are led to believe that the only way to fish is to have your fly landing upstream from the fish and then the fly does a dead drift, it drifts down with the current as if he was a dead bug, and then the objective, of course, being to have this beautiful perfect drag-free drift. He referred to that as the dogma of the drag-free drift or the dead drift, because we’re led to believe that’s the only way to present a fly. And in this context, I was actually telling him about how… Or whoever he was. I was telling him or her about how… Oh, I remember who he was now. I’m glad I’m talking about this. So this was a… I think it was a conversation about… That I was having with Ed Angle, and Ed Angle used that term. And I was talking about how in tenkara we have different presentations. Like for example, like skating the fly, which is not too unusual for anybody with a fly fishing background, but also dragging the fly like deliberately dragging the fly or stopping the fly on the surface of the water can entice fish to take it. And then he used that term, the dogma of the dead drift. And essentially, that’s not the only way to think about presenting a fly.
I’d like to say that one of the biggest values of tenkara is to show us that there’s a different way of thinking about fly fishing. And that comes to several different aspects of fly fishing, including, “Hey, you don’t necessarily have to use a reel to catch fish.” Tenkara shows us that there’s this different way of thinking about it and the reel is not something they necessarily need. When it comes to casting it’s like, “Hey, you don’t have to do a bunch of false casts to present your fly. You can just do this nice up and downcast and present the fly deliberately and accurately where you want.” And the one that I like talking about most is what the tenkara flies or what tenkara fly selection shows us about fly fishing that is a little different.
When I first heard the concept of using one fly, it was when… About a month after I started Tenkara USA and I met Dr. Hisao Ishigaki who became my main teacher, and he talked about how tenkara anglers in Japan don’t change flies. He has only used this one fly pattern for about 10 years, but they focus a lot on the presentation. And I liked that concept, but I wasn’t necessarily very sure what he meant by presentation. I think when he first talked about that, the main thing that came to mind was… Because I was mostly Western fly fishing until that point, what came to mind was this lightweight delicate landing of the fly on the water. Presentation in my mind was, usually what I thought about presentation was the way the fly landed in the water. Is this splashing or is it landing like a bug would?
But when I started fishing with him, I realized that presentation was a lot of different things. Yes, it was how the fly landed, but also where it landed, from which direction it landed. And then, how the fly was actually gonna behave in the water. Until that time, I was a believer that the dead drift was pretty much the only way to present a fly and I worked really hard to improve my presentation. But as I started fishing with him, I learned that there’s different ways to present the fly. If the dead drift is not working, maybe you can put some motion on the fly. If that’s not working and you see certain things on the water, you kinda stop the fly in front of obstacles and that kinda thing.
So, over the years of learning with him and different teachers, I realized that we can probably put the presentations of tenkara flies in six main categories. So we have the dead drift. And don’t get me wrong. The dead drift is, in tenkara, at least in my own tenkara fishing and most of the teachers that I fish with, the dead drift is also considered the main way to present a fly. You wanna get the fly to drift with the current in as natural a way as possible. So that’s number one, a dead drift. But if that’s not working, maybe we can try a few different things. Pulsating the fly, a lot of you might have heard of the concept of pulsating the fly. With the most typical tenkara flies which have this reverse hackle, the Sakasa Kebari. If you twitch the fly, like you move the rod up and down a little bit and then every time you pull the rod tip up the fly, he’s gonna come up a little bit and the hackle’s gonna open, the reverse hackle that’s facing the surface, is gonna come back and open, kinda like a flower petals opening and then you let it relax, and the fly kinda goes down a little bit and the hackle is gonna move up towards the surface kinda closing. So if you do that twitching, the fly is gonna open and close really nicely. So that’s the second presentation out of six that I realized that we can impart on a fly.
Now, the third one is the idea of pausing the fly. And pausing the fly, it can be a little tricky to visualize, but… Because, are we trying to pause in a vertical plane or horizontal? But primarily it’s stopping the fly in specific spots on the water. And the way to do that is to have your rod tip upstream from the fly and the line is gonna be completely stretched and you’re gonna stop the fly. That’s the third presentation that I like and you pick select spots and you’re trying to stop to fly there for two seconds or so, and I particularly like that when there’s like obstacles like big submerged rocks, for example. So that’s pausing the fly.
The fourth presentation that I really like is a combination of the pause and the drift, and that’s why we call it the pause and drift technique. It’s probably one of my favorite presentations and I’ll talk a little bit more about each one of these presentations that we can use with tenkara a little bit more in depth. But the pausing the fly and let it drift is really good because if you imagine a fish, it’s kinda holding its spot, holding a spot in the water and all of a sudden it sees this bug coming down and stops, and then it drifts a little closer and stops, that can be really enticing and I’ve had a lot of fish taking the fly, either when it stops or on the drift, but a lot of times on the stops for sure.
So, that’s presentation number four. The fifth presentation is what I call pulling. And pulling, it’s gonna typically be towards the shore, of course, towards the angler usually, or upstream. We never really wanna be pulling our fly downstream. And the pulling and usually we’re gonna be pulling about a foot or so at a time maybe two feet. And I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a few minutes. But the pulling is a little different from the pulsating technique. Whereas the pulsating technique, you’re moving your rod more like up and down; pulling, you’re moving the rod more horizontally parallel to the water, towards the shore or upstream from where it… Where it started. So, those are the five kind of main ways to manipulate the fly, in a way.
And the sixth presentation, I mentioned there’s six kind of main things that I’d like to talk about. The sixth is what I call plunging or sinking the fly, and that’s a way to present the fly in a different water column, whereas most of the techniques, a lot of times, we might focus a little bit on the top layers of the water sometimes. We might see fish a little deeper, and there’s ways to sink the fly to get closer to the fish. So, sinking the fly just by using currents. The primary way and I usually call it plunging is because you’re gonna be casting upstream from little plunges, where the water’s kinda going over a boulder and that current when it goes over, it’s gonna help sink the fly for you, it’s gonna suck the fly under and carry it in deeper water columns.
So those are gonna be the six main techniques that I’m gonna be talking about today. It’s gonna be the dead drift, it’s gonna be pulsating the fly, pausing, pausing and drifting, pulling the fly, and then the plunge which can be used with any of the previous techniques that I mentioned.
And again, one of the main reasons I wanted to talk about this is because it is to show you a different way of thinking about fly fishing and presentations. As I mentioned, for me presentation before tenkara, it was all about how the fly landed in the water. But in this episode, I’m gonna talk about how we present the fly when the fly is in the water already. And it’s a different way of thinking about fly fishing. Fly fishing is not all about the dead drift. So let me talk about the six techniques a little bit more in-depth, when I use them and how I like to do my techniques.
So the dead drift. The dead drift is by far the technique that I use the most. It’s the most important technique in our arsenal of presentations, and there’s a lot to be said about a dead drift. And also, how to improve the dead drift. So the dead drift, as I mentioned earlier, is the idea of getting the fly to drift along with the speed of the current. So if you were to cast… Let’s say, you’re casting directly upstream from you. Directly upstream, you cast, and as the fly starts coming down towards you with the speed of the current, you’re slowly lifting the tip of the rod and keeping up pace with the current. When the fly gets to about just below the tip of the rod, at whatever point, you’re gonna cast again.
If you were to cast a quarter, let’s say a quarter upstream or more like across the stream, you’re gonna cast and you’re gonna be moving the rod from… Let’s say, if I’m casting on my left side, my left arm is upstream, I’m gonna cast and then I’m gonna start moving my rod slowly towards my right to keep along… Keep up with the speed of the current. If I were to cast and fish downstream and I wanna get a dead drift, I’m gonna cast closer to me, and I’m gonna start slowly lowering the tip of the rod and just to keep up with the speed of the current.
One of the beautiful things about tenkara is that we have this ability to keep a lot of line off the water, so we don’t have a lot of drag happening on our line. Drag-free drifts are much easier to accomplish with a tenkara rod. Because we have this long rod and you’re casting a very very light line out, and you’re like having this more of a… More of a vertical presentation. You don’t have a lot of line laying across currents. So the dead drift is gonna be easier to accomplish. We don’t have to deal with as much drag, we don’t have to be mending and that kind of thing.
Now, the main tip that I like to give is on your forward cast. If you’re coming from a fly fishing background, on your forward cast, just make sure to stop your rod tip kinda high, 10 or 2 o’clock approximately on the clock face, just to keep the line off the water and then just kinda keep up with it. If you lay your line on the water, then you’re gonna be forced to mend and that kind of thing, and we don’t wanna be talking too much about that. So one of the biggest advantages of tenkara is this beautiful drag-free presentations that we can accomplish. One of the… And I’d say that the dead drift, even for my own fishing I would say it’s about 80% of the fishing that I do. That’s always the technique that I like to get started with, tends to be a lot of times the most productive technique. So I don’t wanna give the impression that in tenkara, we’re always pulsating our fly and that kind of thing. So dead drift is a good place to start.
And it can be used in a variety of different waters and conditions. That’s just what you are gonna be using most of the time. In the other presentations, I’ll talk about when I like to use them, but with this one, the main thing that I wanna talk about is: How do we improve our presentation? As I mentioned, accomplishing a drag-free drift with tenkara is easy, because we don’t have line touching the water. But there’s a couple of things that you start noticing that you can improve upon, and one of the main things that I like showing people… If you’re cast… If you’re trying to get a good dead drift and you’re casting primarily across or a quarter upstream, always start with your arm closer to your body. And this is gonna be particularly important if the water’s kinda moving a little bit away from you. If like the current seam is bending and kind of pushing the fly away from you, as opposed to kind of pushing the fly towards you. But what you’re gonna do is you’re gonna cast a quarter upstream or across, with your arm close to your body when you start the presentation.
And now try this: As the fly starts moving downstream, start pushing your arm out and downstream with it. So you’re starting with your arm close to your body, kinda tucked in there a little bit, as the fly starts moving down, you start pushing your arm out and downstream with it. And you’re gonna notice something really cool. The fly is gonna stay with the seam that you’re trying to fish, as opposed to kinda start moving towards you. And that’s a very, very subtle thing that I didn’t really notice existed, until I really started learning more about tenkara fishing with different teachers. But Dr. Ishigaki showed me this.
And very often what happens is, in a dead drift, maybe the fish is gonna see this fly drifting with the current and he’s been eating bugs there all day. So he sees the fly coming towards him, and of course, as small as their brain is, the fish is also gonna be forecasting where the fly is gonna be in a moment. And if your arm stays close to your body the whole time, or if you have your arm extended out the whole time, what’s gonna happen is the fly is gonna start slowly moving towards you at the same time it goes downstream. And sometimes you’ll miss strikes because the fish is gonna jump to where it thought the fly was gonna be, but at that point, the fly has moved a fraction of an inch closer to you.
So you see the strikes, and a lot of times I’ve seen that happen with myself, as well as with people that I’ve been teaching. You missed a strike and I’m like, “Oh shoot, I missed a strike.” And you miss another one, and then you notice that actually the fish is the one that missed the fly more than you missed the strike. He might have even touched your fly, but he didn’t quite take it where it was intended. So you end up losing strikes that way. Whereas if you keep… If you start with your arm close to your body, which is gonna allow you to push it out and downstream, the fly’s gonna stay in a more predictable pattern along with the current, and then the fish is gonna have a better chance of taking the fly. So that’s kind of the main tip that I give for improving presentation of a fly.
Now, I’m gonna talk a little bit about the second technique that we cover in tenkara, the pulsating technique. So the pulsating technique is where you move your rod tip up and downstream and the fly is gonna be kind of opening and closing, if you have this reverse hackle tenkara fly style, but even with other flies it’s gonna work as well. But it’s primarily gonna be the most efficient technique with a reverse hackle fly ’cause the reverse hackle also allows the fly to be anchored in the water. If you were to have a nymph or a soft hackle wet fly with the hackle facing the band of the hook and you try to pulsate the fly, there’s no resistance, so typically the fly is gonna come out of the water skipping. So primarily effective with the reverse hackle fly although it will work with the other flies. Now, in this technique, the main thing that I like to talk about, first of all talk about when I use it.
So when the dead drift is not working and I wanna try something different, that’s probably the second technique that I like to try. And it’s just one of those things where you’re kinda trying to give this impression of life of… Impression of life to trout and other fish. Fish are very predatorial, they wanna eat something that is gonna be food and for them food is typically moving, it’s gonna be bugs and sometimes if you have a fly that is dead, sometimes, the fish are not gonna be quite as curious about it, I don’t think. Whereas the dead drift works most of the time, and it’s primarily the primary technique because fish are gonna be feeding on a bunch of things. I think that the dead drift is best when the fish are just actively eating a bunch of stuff that is coming to them, but sometimes we kinda wanna turn on their predatorial instinct. Maybe they’re not quite feeding as much, there’s not as much food coming to them and we wanna present a fly to them that’s gonna entice them to come and check it out. It’s like, “Hey there’s a live piece of food. I’m gonna go eat it.” So that’s why I think it works well in certain situations. And I find that it works best when the fish are very active. I do like to use the pulsing technique early on in the day when I’m kind of cycling through techniques to see what’s happening, are they very aggressive or are they just kind of feeding on stuff that’s coming to them?
So the pulsing technique again is gonna be moving the fly up and down, kinda make… Imparting motion into the fly. And the main thing that I kinda like to emphasize with this technique in terms of improving it and in terms of what I’ve seen, a lot of times when I introduce the concept of a pulsing fly to anglers, they immediately start doing this kind of erratic motion, kinda like shaking the fly. Whereas the most effective way that I’ve found with the pulsing technique, is you wanna have a nice rhythm, an up and down kind of motion and it’s gonna do a couple of things. First, it’s gonna make the fly a little bit, the flight pattern, moving pattern a little bit more predictable to the fish. So if you’re moving the rod up and down, it’s like… And a fish may be watching that, you might be able to detect where it’s gonna be a little bit better. If you do it very erratically, you’re kinda shaking the fly, the fly’s gonna be all over the place and yes, you’re gonna get strikes, but you’re also gonna miss a lot of strikes. So moving the rod up and down. And the second benefit of having this nice rhythm, up and down rhythm with the fly is that every time you move the rod up, it’s an instant hookset. So that’s one of the things that I really like about it. Maybe a fish took the fly when it was kind of relaxing and sinking a little bit, but then you immediately pulled it up and you set the hook, instantly, without even thinking about it.
So that’s mostly what I wanted to talk about in terms of the pulsing, but I should also note, you can vary any of these presentations too, but the pulsing in particular, it can be very little pulses, very short, like two to three-inch movements, which is particularly gonna be helpful in slower moving water and maybe shallower water, but you can also make very big pulses, like maybe a foot, almost, at a time, which is particularly gonna be helpful and useful when you’re fishing faster moving waters, deeper waters, and when you’re using heavier flies. So sometimes, if I’m fishing a big river like the Madison River in Montana, I’ll make these big pulses with a bigger fly. If I’m fishing Boulder Creek, I would just do tiny little pulses.
The other techniques that I’m gonna be talking about here are gonna be essentially dragging the fly or pausing the fly, so I call it the pause technique. And the idea here is to pause the fly in select spots where you think the fish are likely to be holding. And I tend to use that technique a lot when I see some large submerged rocks under water. Any time there’s a submerged rock under water, there’s gonna probably be fish holding in front of it, and you’re trying to get this fish that is holding in front of the rock, that is not really too interested in moving, a reason to kinda come up and eat something. So when I see submerged rocks, maybe I don’t see the fish in front of them, but I love stopping the fly in front of the submerged rock. So maybe I’ll stop the fly in front of one rock for a second or two, maybe I’ll let the fly move with the current to the next rock and stop in front of that, or maybe I’ll just cast again to a different rock or cast to the same rock. But the idea here is just to pause the fly for a second or two in front of obstacles where you think the fish are gonna be holding.
There was a… Mr. Yoshida, one time, I think he was pulling my leg, or maybe just telling me a joke, but he said that if you can stop your fly exactly in the same spot for about five seconds, or I think he said for five seconds exactly, if you can stop your fly exactly in the same spot for five seconds, you’re guaranteed to catch a fish. And I thought that was pretty interesting, but then I kind of realized that even when I tried to hold my fly in a spot, in one spot, it was impossible to make my fly really stop because the currents are kinda moving and making the fly go from side to side a little bit. So I wonder if he was pulling my leg or maybe it was like one of those philosophical things that it’s like, it’s never gonna happen, but, hey, if you ever make a fly stop exactly in the same space for five seconds, you’re gonna get a strike. I have gotten strikes by stopping the fly in one spot for several seconds. Just letting the fly drag on the surface.
Now with this technique to… Especially the pausing and the pausing and drifting, which I’m gonna talk here in a second. Keep in mind, there’s two kind of main variations that you can use. So you’re always gonna have your rod tip upstream from the fly to do these. So you’re casting across, letting the fly drift a little bit down and then keeping the rod still or moving the rod upstream, even farther. But that’s how you stop a fly. Now, if you have your rod tip high, like pointed up a little bit, then the fly is gonna be riding right on the surface of the water. If you point your rod tip low, maybe point it into the water and you’re gonna have a lot more of your tenkara line in the water, then the fly is gonna be riding below the surface. So those are the two main variations, rod high is gonna be riding the fly on the surface, rod tip pointing down into the water, you’re gonna have the ride… The fly riding below the surface.
Now, one drawback with the pausing technique is that a lot of times you’re gonna actually get strikes, but you’re also gonna miss fish. And I think what’s happening is you’re… Without even trying, you’re kind of pulling the fly away from the fish. So the fish comes up, tries to take your fly, but you kind of pulled it out of its mouth. So that’s one of the drawbacks. I think it’s a great scouting technique, I love it during the summer when the fish are very active to see where the fish are kinda holding and just to see how aggressive the fish really are, but I do find that I miss a lot of strikes with that technique. A more effective presentation is combine… In my opinion, is combining the pause with a drift. So that’s what I call the pause and drift technique. Again, I’m gonna use this particularly where I see obstacles under water, but pretty much anywhere else too, ’cause there’s gonna be fish holding in different spots. But all you’re gonna be doing is you have the rod tip upstream from the fly, you stop it for a second or so and then you let it drift down about a foot or two and then you stop, let it drift down.
And remember when I talked about the dead drift and how to improve it, I talked about pushing your arm out and downstream, that can be really useful for this technique as well. So start with your arm close to your body and rod tip is gonna be upstream from the fly, then you stop to fly, let it drift about a foot or two, stop, let it drift and as you do that, also start pushing your arm out and downstream with it and I do that three, four times or until close to the end of your reach. Typically, when you’re fishing kinda downstream or across and down, which is what we’re doing with these techniques, we don’t wanna get to the very, very end of our reach, because if a fish were to take the fly at that point, it’s probably gonna break you off ’cause there’s no flex on the rod.
So one tip is to focus on shorter sections of the stream, so you do your pause and drift until… Keeping the rod… Or you start with the rod tip kinda higher or more angled up and there’s gonna be a point… If you were to imagine the fly, the rod is pointing kinda downstream, the fly’s pretty much maxed out, it’s reaching as far as you’ll get and then there’s the fly. If a fish takes it at that point there’s no give on the rod, so it’s gonna break off. So stop a little bit sooner, as you start going down, keeping a little bit of this angle between the rod and where the fish is gonna be, so that if a fish takes, you can make the rod flex for you and then move on to the next section down. So working in sections, I think is always a much more effective way to fish with tenkara.
Now the pause and drift, again, when there’s submerged obstacles, I like to use it a lot, but also I’ve had a lot of success with that in spring creeks and I’ll post a video of what this technique looks like. And as a matter of fact, I’ll post a video with the overview of all these techniques and then one where I catch a nice fish using the pause and drift on our website tenkarausa.com/podcast in the section where I talk about techniques. So I have those two videos up there and you can kinda see what I mean a little bit more about them. Sometimes I think it helps to have this visual.
Hopefully… This is hard, podcast is kind of a new medium for you. Hopefully, I’m kind of painting a good picture in your mind so that if you’re driving or working you can picture what I’m trying to… Try to describe. Here in the studio, I am actually making motion with my arm to kinda see how I’d explain it. So I’m making this up as I go, and I hope you’re bearing with me but hopefully, you’re picturing the techniques in your brain as I talk about them. So that was the pause and drift, and I’ll have that video up on our website.
Now, the next one is gonna be pulling and pulling, if you’re coming from a fly fishing background, it’s kind of like pulling a streamer towards you or upstream, you’re just kinda giving the fly some action that is counter to the currents, either cross current or against the current. We never wanna pull really our fly downstream because that’s gonna be kind of making the fly move faster than current and the fish is… Unless you have a very aggressive fish, there’s a good chance it’s not gonna be able to take your fly. And our objective here is to make it first to entice fish, but also to make it easier for the fish to take a fly.
Now, with the pulling technique, you’re gonna be casting across or downstream from you, and when you cast across, you can move the rod… You’re gonna be moving the rod parallel to the water towards the shore where you are. And the main tip here is you’re gonna have to have your rod tip kinda low close to the water, so you cast and you’re gonna have at least a couple of feet of your main tenkara line in the water. If you were to keep your rod tip very high and you try to pull it towards you, very quickly, the fly is gonna skip out of the water and make it hard for any fish to take it.
So you’re gonna keep the rod tip low, rod parallel to the water and pull it about a foot or two at a time towards the shore. And I can’t say that there’s a particular instance where I know to use that technique, but primarily if I find that there’s aggressive brown trout in a particular water, if the fish are very active, I’d say it’s one of the techniques that I have least success with, maybe because I don’t use it a whole lot, but maybe depends on a very particular behavior from the fish for the technique to work well. But pulling across, having a couple of feet of the line in the water to anchor the fly and the line in there. Again, if you keep your rod tip high, it’s gonna skip out of the water, so we have to have the line to anchor everything in.
And then, of course, you’re gonna pull it to a certain extent, and you’re gonna get to a certain point where you’re gonna have to recast and typically it’s just gonna be when your rod is getting close to parallel with the shore, just a little bit before it gets to that point, you’re gonna cast again. You don’t wanna go too far behind you usually ’cause then you start getting caught on brush and trees behind you.
So if you were to imagine casting across and your rod tip starts pointing directly in front of you, and then you can pull it towards either shoulder, I tend to like pulling towards my shoulder, my upstream shoulder, and about a foot or two at a time, depending a little bit of how fast the water is moving, how big the fly is and that kind of thing. And that’s something that you’re gonna develop a feel for. If the fly starts skipping out of the water, even if you have some line in the water, maybe just do a little bit of a slower or a shorter pull. If you have a very large fly with a lot of hackle, you can get away with a bigger pull, a little bit more of a violent kind of pull, if you will.
And then the same thing with upstream pulls. Typically, in that case, you’re gonna cast a little bit more downstream, a quarter down, or even directly downstream, and then you just pull a foot or two upstream at a time. And just like in the pausing and pausing and drifting, you can have the two variations. You can have the rod tip a little bit higher to keep the fly closer to the surface or rod tip lower to fish a little deeper, but regardless, it’s gonna be lower than the pausing and drifting, the rod tip, because you wanna keep some line in the water as you apply this technique.
Now, the last one is, it’s gonna be the plunging or sinking technique and it’s not quite so much a manipulation technique like the other techniques that I talked about, it’s more a way to present the fly in different water columns. And this is always an interesting thing to notice ’cause I don’t use weight, I don’t use split shot, and I don’t carry weights with me and I don’t carry heavy lines, and that kind of thing, but I have learned over the years to use currents to sink my fly deep for me.
And this is just a little introduction ’cause there’s probably a lot that I can talk about in terms of sinking the fly and what kind of currents to use. But if you don’t have weight with you, if you forgot your box of split shot, you don’t have any weighted flies and that kind of thing, it’ll be really useful for you to know what kind of techniques I’m using to sink my flies. And then the plunging and the sinking technique can be used with any of the other techniques that I mentioned in the past few minutes here in the podcast.
So once you sink your fly, you can have it dead drift, once you sink your fly, you can kinda pulsate the fly as it goes downstream. Once you get your fly deeper you can also make it stop in a couple of spots or stop and drift, or you can make it sink and then pull it upstream or across. So you can combine it with anything. But typically, I do it primarily with a dead drift sometimes with pulsating. Those are the ones that I combine the most with sinking. But the basic idea here is to learn how to use currents to sink the fly for you.
And there’s three main ways that I sink my fly. If I’m fishing a mountain stream with little plunge pools, or even like small little obstacles, like a smaller mountain stream in a meadow sometimes you’ll find little plunges and what you’re gonna be looking for are gonna be plunges, channels where the water gets faster, or even whirlpools where the water just kinda makes this little tiny whirlpool that’s gonna suck your fly under. So you’re trying to identify those three currents. And sometimes it can be subtle, sometimes it can be very obvious. But once you find the plunge… That’s the one that I love teaching on because it’s a little easier to identify. You’re gonna see where the water is gonna be plunging over rocks and obstacles. You cast upstream from it, let the fly drift until it gets to the plunge.
And if you were to look at a plunge, you’re gonna see this water going over the rock, and I’ve seen it in a few spaces where you can actually see the water, it’s almost like the water’s sliding underneath all the bubbles that are happening in front of it. So you’re looking for the whitewater, and a lot of times we only see the whitewater but what’s happening, the water that is closest to the rock is going down and going under all the bubbly turbulence that you see. So you’re gonna cast upstream from that plunge, follow the fly until it gets to the plunge, and then relax the line a little bit, start lowering the fly down.
When you’re doing it right, it’s gonna look like it’s kinda stuck in place for a second or a couple of seconds. And when hitting the best spots that are gonna sink your fly deepest and fastest for you, it’s gonna really look like it’s stuck and you can lift your rod a little bit when you’re first learning to kinda see if it is stuck. And what’s gonna start happening is the fly is gonna either start moving in a circle, which is an indicator that there’s a really good current happening down there and it’s taking your fly deeper and deeper for you, or it’s gonna start moving downstream. The best pools… You know you get into the plunge, the fly is gonna look like it’s stuck, two seconds later it’s gonna start moving in a circle, and then it’s gonna start moving downstream. Try to find those, try to see when you can identify those.
Sometimes it’s just gonna look like it’s stuck for a second, and then it’s gonna start immediately moving downstream. And other times, you’ll sink it down a little bit but not quite as deep, and it’s gonna go a few inches under and it’s just gonna immediately move downstream. But essentially you are sinking your fly. Every current is gonna be different, and the only thing here is experience, you have to really try to leave your weight and weighted flies behind a little bit, and see what the currents are doing to your fly to start learning what’s happening.
As I mentioned early on, it’s a different way of thinking about it. I’m not telling you necessarily you have to leave weights behind. I’ve got nothing against weighted flies, nothing against split shot, even though I don’t like to use them, but it is a different way of thinking about fly fishing. And if you leave your weights behind or weighted flies behind, you can start learning how to use currents to take your flies down for you.
So that’s, on the plunges those are gonna be most obvious. The other things to look for are little channels where the water gets faster, so like maybe between two rocks. If there’s no plunge necessarily forming over boulders and that kind of thing, maybe there’s gonna be a place where the water gets funneled into a faster channel between two large boulders, for example, and that’s gonna do a very similar thing. Usually it doesn’t take the fly quite as deep, but if you cast upstream from it and the fly gets into that channel, a lot of times it’s gonna sink underneath a little bit faster than you would.
And the other, the third way to sink flies without using… Just by using the currents, is to look for micro little whirlpools. Sometimes they’re gonna be forming in the same spot, and you cast and try to get your fly there and I’ve seen it where the fly just seems to drop like six inches or 10 inches, when it hits those little tiny currents.
Now you might tell me, “Oh Daniel, I don’t fish in places that have all these features you’re talking about. You know, I usually fish spring creeks or slow-moving water, there’s no plunges, there’s no visible currents that I can see. What do I do?” And there’s actually ways to sink your fly in that kind of place when you don’t have any weights on you. But it primarily consists of casting the fly as far upstream as you can, and let the fly sink, naturally, as it will. Sometimes there’s gonna be little tiny currents that can take your fly down for you and even in waters that look fairly calm. The one limitation that I accept with this, the approach of not using weights, is that I cannot sink my fly deep, fast. But I can sink it fairly deep, if I’m willing to take some time, and I can sink it fast but not very deep. So that’s kind of what I’m working with. It’s a self-imposed limitation, and I’m okay with it ’cause I don’t have to deal with little boxes of weights and that kind of thing.
But in places with calmer water, there’s ways to sink your fly deep as well. And the primary technique that I like to use in that kind of water is to cast as far upstream as I can, and of course it’s gonna depend on whereabouts in the river I wanna fish. But, let the fly go down naturally, and keep following the fly down and see how far it’s gonna sink. When it gets close to the end of your drift, what you’re gonna do is, keeping your rod pointed down into the water, slowly pull your rod tip upstream, and bring it to essentially the beginning of your drift as far up as you can bring, just being careful not to make the fly ride back up to the surface. So you’re gonna bring your fly upstream, and then repeat the process, let the fly kinda move deeper and deeper. And then you can repeat that a couple of times to get to the depth that you want to.
One thing that I kinda like to do, like when I’m usually doing this, is I bring the fly upstream, slowly, with the rod tip pointed down so that the fly doesn’t ride up, and as the fly starts moving downstream again, I almost make this kind of little pulsing movement as it goes down, and it actually looks a little bit more like the pause and drift. And to me I always get the impression that I’m pushing my fly deeper. I don’t know exactly what’s happening there, but I’ve noticed that it looks like I’m pushing my fly a little bit deeper when I do this kind of pulsing motion. But you don’t have to do it, it’s just something that I do like to do. So that’s how you sink the fly or start looking at sinking the fly deeper, without using any weights.
Well, it’s a longer episode, but I know some of you have been asking for more information on techniques for tenkara. It’s a simple method of fishing, but there’s a lot of emphasis on the techniques. And hopefully this kinda gives you a nice overview of the techniques that I’m using when I’m fishing. And I should have mentioned too… Like there’s two things that I probably should have mentioned.
First, how I usually go through them and second, the idea of not second-guessing techniques too much. So, usually the way I fish, I would say the first 15-20 minutes of my day when I get to a new spot, for a new day of fishing, I tend to cycle through the techniques a little bit more. So, do several dead drifts and I’ll fish… I’ll probably guess that I’ll fish dead drifts for five to 10 minutes. And then I start cycling through the different techniques for another five to 10 minutes and see if there’s anything in particular that’s causing the fish to bite. Sometimes I might play around a little bit longer and sometimes I’ll immediately kind of find that something is working a little bit better than others. If, in the first 15 to 20 minutes I don’t kinda get any clear ideas of what is most effective that day, I’ll just focus mostly on the dead drifts and then once in a while, kinda play a little bit depending on what it looks like.
And also the other thing too is, usually I fish upstream and typically when I get to a nice little run or nice pool, my first couple of presentations are gonna be the dead drift. But if it’s a really good looking pool and I didn’t get a fish, I might move to the side of the pool or even to the upstream portion of the pool and then I’ll try the other techniques like pulsating the fly or pausing and drifting, because it’s like, in my opinion, if the pool looks really good and I should have caught a fish there, but I didn’t get anything on my dead drift, maybe there’s gonna be a different technique for that particular fish or those particular fish that’s gonna entice ’em. So, that’s how I usually approach it. Dead drift again, probably my main one, but sometimes you’ll find that one technique seems to be what the fish are more keyed in on.
And the second thing that I probably should mention is, kinda like with flies, we talk about not changing flies a whole lot because essentially if you’re changing flies, what you’re actually doing is second guessing your fly choice a whole lot, and first of all, what is to say that the next fish was not gonna be intrigued by that… That first technique?
So, when you’re second-guessing your fly, your techniques a whole lot and you’re changing over and over again, it doesn’t kinda give you any chance to see if the fish are into something in particular. But again, I don’t wanna give the wrong impression, I don’t wanna give the impression that with tenkara we’re manipulating the fly the whole time, the dead drift is probably the main technique. And that’s what I like to tell people to focus on, typically. So, don’t cycle through it too much because then you might be missing some opportunities as well.
Well, so hopefully that’s a really good overview. I tried to do as best as I could to give you an overview of the techniques that I use, how I usually go through them in the beginning, which I just talked about. I typically don’t second guess them a whole lot. The dead drift is my main technique, but then I’ll also try pulsating the fly, a little motion up and down. I try to pause my fly in places where I think the fish might be holding a little bit more. I try to pause and drift which is a really good technique because it’s the drift often time… Oftentimes, gives a chance for the fish to take the fly in its mouth. As opposed to the pause, which kinda pulls the fly away. Then I talk about pulling the fly towards the shore or upstream and then sinking the fly without using any weights, which you can combine with any of the other techniques.
And with most techniques, if you have your rod tip up high, it’s gonna be with a fly closer to the surface. If you have your rod tip lower, closer to the water, you’re gonna have the fly riding a little deeper. And those are the main presentations that I use with tenkara fishing and go ahead and give ’em a try. I think the only way to learn really these techniques is to go out fishing because then you need the currents to kinda see what the currents are gonna be doing to your fly to take it deep or in terms of the presentations themselves, how do you make the fly pause in a spot or how do you make it pause and then drift into another spot?
Right, so let me know what techniques you like to use. What you’ve had success with. Check out our page for the podcast, tenkarausa.com/podcast. I’m gonna post those two videos in there, so you can see what I’m talking about. And if you liked this episode, I’d love to ask you for a review in iTunes. Most people… We are learning through our stats here that a lot of you are subscribing to our podcast via iTunes, and those reviews are invaluable and it tells me what I could be doing better. Tells people what to expect with the podcasts. And it just allows to tell… Allows you to tell the world what you think about what we’re doing here and your experiences with tenkara. So, subscribe in iTunes, leave us a review and check out our page, tenkarausa.com/podcast. And until next time, on The Tenkara Cast.
I’d like to extend a special thank you to Nick Ogawa also known as Takénobu. Check out his music at takenobumusic.com. We’ll be posting links to any references we made in this podcast such as Takénobu’s music on our website www.tenkarausa.com/podcast. And until next time, on The Tenkara Cast.