Traditional Japanese Fly Fishing

Tenkara Fisherman

Originating in Japan over 400 years ago, Tenkara テンカラ釣りis a traditional method of fly fishing that excels in mountain streams. 

While you can find similarities between tenkara and Western-style fly fishing, these two forms developed independently of each other. Originally, Japanese tenkara fishermen used bamboo rods, which have evolved into the lightweight telescopic rods found today. Because tenkara rods have historically been very lightweight and longer than the shorter and heavier Western-style rods, this made it possible for Japanese fishermen to reach greater distances in streams without the need for additional equipment like reels. 

What holds tenkara above other forms of fly fishing is it simplicity. Focus is placed on the actual act of casting the fly and catching of fish and less focus is applied to equipment needed such as with the Western-style of fly fishing. All that is required is a rod (without reel), line, and fly. This simplicity and portability make it perfect for beginners, backpackers, bikepackers, or anyone looking to connect better with the outdoors. 

Basic Tenkara Gear

Tenkara Rod: Modern tenkara rods are long, flexible, and most often telescopic. They range from 11 to 15 feet in length and the most common rod is usually 12 feet long. When choosing which tenkara rod is right for you, you should keep the type of streams where you will mostly be using it in mind.  

Tenkara Line: There are two basic types of tenkara line. The traditional line most often used is a tapered furled line. This type of line is typically easier to cast and most people just getting into tenkara prefer tapered lines. The other type of line used is a level line. Level lines are lighter and can be kept off the water more easily but are harder to cast than a tapered line. Generally, the length of line used should roughly be the same length of the rod (tippet included).

Traditionally, a tenkara rod has a loop of braided line with a stopper knot at its end. The tenakra line is tied to the end of this braided line at the end of the rod by using a cow hitch knot. 

Tippet: Tippet is used because tenkara line is too thick to tie the fly directly to it. Most often, the length of tippet used ranges from one foot to three feet. In Japanese, tippet is referred to as “hea”, which translates to “hair” in English. 

Tenkara Fly: Tenkara flies, referred to as “kebari” in Japan, are typically very small and are constructed with feathers, thread and sometimes fur. Additionally, Japanese flies use a reverse hackle wet-fly. These have the hackle tied facing forward, which is different from most flies used in the Western style of fly fishing. 

Additional Tenkara Gear 

Floatant: This is a mixture of wax and a carrier that is in a liquid state. Floatant prevents dry flies from absorbing too much water and sinking when fishing.

Fly Box: Also referred to as fly cases, fly boxes are used to store your flies in when not in use. These come in various sizes and can hold multiple types of flies.

Fly Patch: Fly patches are used to keep an assortment of flies handy when out fishing and can be attached to the outside of your tenkara pack for ease of access. These can be made from multiple materials such as cork or velcro. 

Nippers: Nippers come in all manner of shapes and sizes and are used to cut the line if need be. Typically, this is preferable over using your teeth to sever a line.  

Forceps: Forceps are used to remove flies safely and easily from fish. These can also be used to hold a tenkara fly as you tie it to the tippet. 

Tenkara Pack: A well thought out pack to hold tenkara equipment and gear adds to the simplicity of tenkara fishing. Having easy access to different items makes for a more enjoyable tenkara experience.