April 2011 I was introduced to Tenkara by a fellow member of my fishing club. I’d vaguely heard of Tenkara via a few forum discussions and a bit of Google searching and was intrigued. The member had got a Tenkara USA Iwana 12ft 6:4 action rod as a present from his brother in the States and offered me a chance to give it a try. I was apprehensive after mixed reviews online, was it a fly rod or a pole? The answer would be in the fishing.
The setup was a 10ft furled leader and about 5ft of tippet and on went a dry fly ready to give it a go! First impression was ‘wow’ the rod cast the furled leader with such delicacy with so little effort it was hard to believe. Straight away I thought this is the dry fly fishers dream there was no way a conventional rod could match this presentation! This first delve into Tenkara only lasted an hour as daylight was not on our side so we arranged to meet the following week for a bit of a longer session and give a chance to fish with the method rather than just cast.
A month and a bit more online Tenkara research later I was back on the river with the Tenkara rod. Long leaders were the general consensus and I opted for a duo setup of 10ft furled leader then 2ft to a Klink then 3ft to a 2.5mm tungsten bead Copper-Mary. The rod excelled in a delicate presentation even with a tungsten beaded fly on the point but what was more apparent this time was the line control being able to hold the leader and tippet off the water so the Klink could dead drift with the current unhindered by leader drag. Suddenly, the Klink was plucked under and I lifted to set the hook not knowing to expect. A fish was on! The most striking thing was the feel during the fight, every movement of the fish was transmitted through to the handle much more sensitivity than a conventional fly rod. Then came the awkward part, the fish was getting ready to bring to the net. Now it doesn’t take a maths wizard to work out that 15ft of leader and tippet to point fly is 3ft longer than the rod add that to a soft action rod which has a fair old bend in it and that puts the fish another 3ft away! Now I could raise my arm above my head that would give me 3ft back at the most still short!? Do I grab the leader? That was the only way I’m going to land this fish and eventually after much commotion and cursing the lack of a reel I got the fish in the net, a nice brown trout of 11 inches.
What did I think of Tenkara after this experience? Perfect casting tool for the presentation purist, enjoyable fight but hard work landing a fish! The complexity of landing outweighed the positives in my mind as it seemed too much faff! I deliberated the thought of getting a Tenkara rod long after the session and after more online research which included a comical video of a Tenkara angler in New Zealand running after a hooked fish (http://vimeo.com/m/23537225) I concluded my thoughts as were post landing the fish ‘a casting tool for a presentation purist too much faff!’ This awkwardness in landing a fish with long leaders was shown again in the summer of 2012 when Joel hooked a good fish on the Yorkshire Calder. The rod was bent almost double as he played the fish and after battle the fish began to tire. However the leader was so long and the fish kept giving short bursts when the leader was brought to hand so in the end it was netted by myself salmon style with Joel dropping the fish over the net. This did get me thinking that perhaps Tenkara did have a place in the fly fishing world as a magnificent 2lb trout had been played and subdued with such a delicate rod.
Fast forward two years later from when my Tenkara experience began the technique has very much evolved in its popularity amongst the fishing press. Authors are waxing lyrical about its simplicity and its romance but most importantly about it as a fishing tool especially where nymphing is concerned. I have been refining my French nymphing technique over the past 2 seasons and I could see where line control with a Tenkara rod would excel in improving dead drift and how the low weight would help reduce fatigue holding a rod at arm’s length all day. The issue of landing fish still nagged at me though. Then I read an article by Dave Southall in the Grayling Society Journal about his personal findings of Tenkara. The first thing that struck me was leader length. The leader setups from butt to tippet described in the article for any method dry, duo or nymph were calculated to be 1ft longer than the rod used. Many other articles in the press have Tenkara leaders as 15ft plus such as I had tried where hand lining was necessary to land a fish. Now with a tippet only 1ft longer than the rod length surely this must make the method much more user friendly and allow the huge benefits of total line control and dead drift to be exploited to the maximum.
Inspired by this I got myself a simple low cost 11ft Tenkara rod and set about giving it a go on some winter grayling on a cold January day on the Yorkshire Calder with Joel. Working to a rough guide by Dave Southall I attached 6ft of level line to the lilian and then a 6 inch bi colour indicator to the end then 4ft of fluorocarbon to top dropper then 18 inch to point fly. The river was running low so a 2.5mm tungsten jig on the dropper and a 3mm tungsten jig on the point would be adequate to get down to the fish. A spot below the bridge looked ideal to start where the run dropped into a pool.
I pitched the nymphs upstream with a delicate flick and the tracked the indicator down holding it above the surface so the flies could dead drift with the current. The pink level line teamed with a bicolour indicator stood out well against the back drop and water surface. The control over the drift was amazing all of the line could be held off without a problem of surface drag affecting the drift of the flies. The other factor that struck me was how I didn’t feel limited with only 6ft of leader. The run could be covered with ease and if anything the fixed line allowed a more methodical searching of the run with the flies.
Everything seemed to be adding up as it had previously but the proof was in the fish! Then the indicator ticked away and with a lift of the rod a fish kicked below. The memories of the sensitive fight came flooding back and the fight felt very controlled. The golden moment was when I lifted the rod as the fish tired it came to the surface and was within reach of the net without having to grapple for the leader by hand. Result! Half a dozen more grayling later I was fairly convinced Tenkara did have a place in my fishing armoury!
I have since been out on two more occasions with the Tenkara rod on the Calder and yet more bonuses have been discovered. My fishing window was fairly limited to a couple of hours so maximum time in the water was the key. Waders on, fishing vest on, Tenkara rod and a box full of flies and leader pre spooled I was set heading down to the river with ease as the rod slips into my back pouch on vest leaving both hands free to scramble down the banks to the water edge. The Tenkara rod is extended with leader affixed to the lillian string, flies tied on and the cast is made. I was amazed, I was fishing within 5 minutes of arriving and landing a fish within 10 minutes. Now with a conventional setup I have no doubt I would still be threading line through rings attaching leader and struggling down the bank after 10 minutes never mind landing a fish! The other plus point was that the air temperature was not much above freezing and one hand could be snuggly sat in a vest pocket warming as one hand is only needed to cast and fish. When one hand gets cold simply switch hands, Tenkara seems very easy to master with your non casting hand due to such a simple casting action. The other point to mention is that no line and rod rings means no chance of the line freezing in the guides! It’s fishing for the extreme.
I intend to fish the beat on then Calder exclusively with Tenkara this season to improve my knowledge, technique and confidence in different situations and conditions.