The Tenkara way
Tenkara has been practiced since the earliest times in the Japanese mountain streams as a way of catching fish and feeding the fisherman’s family. The fisherman attaches a line to a pole and on the end of that is attached a fly. Similar systems can be found in many parts of the world and it was the only way to fish an artificial fly before the advent of the reel. Tenkara in Japanese literally means from heaven and many of the practitioners caught fish to feed their families and also sell in the local market. In recent years it has been taken up by sport fishers in Japan, the USA, Europe and other parts of the developed world.
The essence of Tenkara is to present a single fly with the minimum amount of line on the water. In practice this means that only tippet and the tip of the Tenkara line should be on the water. Another important principle of Tenkara fishing is its simplicity. All the angler needs to take is the rod, line, box of flies, some tippet material and a net. This can all fit into your pocket.
Tenkara flies or Kebari are not designed to imitate a particular prey item but trigger a feeding or attack response. This is similar to many of the lures at are used in still water trout fishing. Many of the Tenkara Kebari have a reversed hackle and then they are known as Sakasa Kebari. This fly design can be traced back to the beginning of Tenkara because the materials available to the mountain peoples were very limited and they had to create their Kebari out of the materials that were available such as sewing needles, cotton, and local feathers. This is also the reason why traditional Kebari are tied on eyeless hooks and loop of silk is used to attach the tippet to the Kebari. The reversing of the hackle is thought to impart more movement in to the fly especially if the fly is fish downstream or given a slight movement to simulate a take. Most Kebari do not have any weight in them but they can be dressed with a small bead at the front of the Kebari.
When fishing, the Tenkara rod is fished at an angle of about 45 degrees to the water. This enables the line to be kept off the water.
This figure illustrates the ideal fishing positions of the rod and the line. The advantage of fishing the rod in this way is that there is direct contact with the fly and there is less of a likely hood of the fly being dragged by the current. This all adds up to a much better presentation of the fly to the fish. This is particularly true if you are fishing ‘pocket water’ or ‘streamy runs’. This enhanced ability to control the Kebari is one of the major advantages of the Tenkara fishing system.
The primary way to fish with a Tenkara rod is to cast a single fly upstream and use very short drifts. These drifts should be no longer than about 3 or 4 seconds. Immediately the fly is cast rod is raised and the fly can be worked by gently moving the rod tip. The fly is cast repeatedly covering the river in front of the angler. Several casts can be made in one place to simulate insect activity. When all the water in front of the angler has been searched then angler will move upstream to the next position. Takes usually occur almost immediately after the Kebari has been cast. The adjacent figure illustrates this approach. Because the angler is close to the fish the angler needs keep his profile low so as to avoid spooking the fish.
The Tenkara fly can also be fished downstream. The Kebari is cast downstream and the fly is pulled towards the angler with long sweeps of the rod. Again the aim is to stimulate the fish so that it takes the Kebari.