Updated: Mar 23, 2019
We don't always nymph, but when we do... we prefer Tenkara
If you've never tried Tenkara before, you may be missing out not only on a lot of fun, but also on an extra arrow in your fly fishing quiver. What is Tenkara and why should anyone care?
Tenkara is a method of fly fishing that uses a long rod, a fixed length of line, tippet, and a fly (or 2 or 3 if you are using a dropper system). This isn’t actually a new method, it's been used by Japanese anglers for hundreds of years. When Tenkara first started, it was used primarily by commercial fisherman vs. as a sporting way to catch trout. Since its “coming to America”, Tenkara has become a practical, and unique way to chase snouts.
A word that's often mentioned in the same sentence as Tenkara is simple. While we don’t disagree that Tenkara includes an element of simplicity, that doesn't mean that it's easy or a “knock off” of traditional fly fishing.
Imagine this. You’ve spent the last two hours watching for risers and betting on a hatch that conditions are “just right” for, and now you've finally realized that there may not be much of a hatch today. What do you do? Throw on a big attractor pattern and try to smooth talk one into coming up? Maybe. Another alternative is to go subsurface . There are several different ways to do this, but in my opinion, Tenkara’s versatility gives you the best odds. With Tenkara, you can get your fly in the same water column as the feeding fish while also keeping total control of strike detection and presentation.
We first tried Tenkara on a weekend fishing trip that was a “sure bet” to coincide with some great hatches. We fished hard the first two days with minimal success. It wasn’t that the hatches weren’t coming off, we could actually watch the nymphs emerge out of the water right in front of us. It was that the fish seemed to be paying little to zero attention to these tasty treats floating along the surface (no we did not actually eat them to find out, but past experience with these wild rainbows leads me to believe that BWOs and Isonychias are like steak and potatoes to them).
The last morning of our trip we decided to hit the water for a couple of hours before breaking camp and heading back home. In an effort to squeeze in as much actual fishing time from these last two hours as we could, I opted for my Tenkara rod instead of taking the time to put together and rig up my 8ft 4wt. I’m glad I did.
When we got to the stream after a 50 yard walk from our camp. Same story. Hatches all around, but no interest from the fish. I thought, what the hell, I’ll put my dry fly enthusiasm aside and try to fish subsurface. We caught more fish in those next two hours than we had the previous two days combined. The techniques we used were a little awkward at first so it took a little time to work out the kinks, but after we did it was fish on.
I'd watched YouTube videos about Tenakra and thought I'd pull the old monkey see monkey do trick.
We set up our rigs using some line, tippet, a bead head pheasant tail point fly, and an emerger pattern as a dropper. We've since made several tweeks to our Tenkara setup which we will go into more detail in future posts.
Trying a new method not only yielded us results, but also satisfied our human nature of learning a new approach to an age old challenge (catching wild trout). As I mentioned, we learned all of this in a matter of a couple of hours, showing that with a little time on the water with a Tenkara rod, you can be headed in the right direction fairly quickly.
We will soon be adding articles with more details of what we've learned since that first Tenkara maiden voyage.