Fly Fishing the Way it Used to be
Tenkara is the modern Japanese version of the earliest fly fishing. People have been fly fishing for thousands of years. And for thousands of years, a rod, a line and a fly were all they had - and all they needed.
The fly reel is a relatively modern invention, and it offers some significant advantages - allowing the fisherman to make long casts and allowing a hooked fish to make long runs. With every advance, though, something gets left behind. In fly fishing, what got left behind was the ability to get drag-free drifts in tricky currents by keeping a light line off the water's surface. Also, the direct connection between the angler and the fish was lost, or at least diminished, when fish started pull against the drag instead of the rod.
The Japanese did not invent fly fishing, and very similar styles of "rod-line-fly" fishing existed throughout Europe - and probably throughout much of the world. What is different, though, is that the Japanese did not give up on that simple fishing style after reels were invented or even after reels became common. The simple style also held out in a small area of northwestern Italy, but it is tenkara that has been introduced - or perhaps reintroduced - to the world in the last few years.
Fishing a mountain stream in Japan
In Japan, tenkara was used to fish for trout and charr in small, high gradient mountain streams. For small mountain streams, tenkara really is an ideal way to fish. You don't make long casts and the fish don't make long runs, so you don't need a reel. There are cross currents everywhere and the long rod and light line used in tenkara make it much easier to get a drag-free drift or to keep a fly in an eddy. Because the line is in the air and not on the water, there is no need to mend. There is no excess fly line to step on or get tangled in sticks and snags.
That lack of excess line to manage makes tenkara the easiest way for a beginner to learn fly fishing. It is really pretty intuitive and a complete beginner can pick it up without having to take casting lessons. Plus, the whole emphasis is on the fishing - on presentation rather than immitation. Matching the hatch is not emphasized - and learning latin is absolutely unnecessary! Some tenkara anglers use only one fly pattern, and many use only a handful.
Masaki Nakano, Gallatin R. MT
Tenkara rods are long. Most are 11 to 14.5 feet but there are shorter rods for fishing tight overgrown streams. Despite their length, they are very light, ranging from under 2 ounces up to perhaps 4 ounces for the longest rods. They are also telescopic, and collapse to between 15" and 24", depending on the model. That makes them very easy to transport - whether walking down the trail to the next pool or taking on the plane in your carry-on luggage. They are so supple that they can subdue larger fish than you would expect, and still protect very light tippets. (A couple of the photos on the site are of 20+ inch fish caught on 6X tippets.)
Tenkara lines are usually about the length of the rods, but they are very light - lighter than the lightest fly line. The long rod and light line allow you to keep almost all your line off the water, greatly reducing drag. Reduced drag yeilds better presentation, and better presentations yield more fish.
It is said that the normal progression of a fly fisherman is to go from wanting to catch any fish, to wanting to catch lots of fish, to wanting to catch big fish, to wanting to catch big, challenging, hard to catch fish. Tenkara is for people who have no need to catch big fish either because they have gotten over it or because they have never gotten into it. The pages on this site have photos of surprisingly large fish that have been caught on tenkara rods - so it can be done - it's just not what I think of when I think of tenkara.
There seem to be two schools of thought with respect to tenkara in the Western World. One suggests that tenkara should remain pure and true to the way it is practiced in Japan. The other is that "tenkara as practiced in Japan" is too narrowly defined.
The traditional Japanese definition of tenkara excludes many of the techniques and fly choices that most Americans, most Westerners really, use with their tenkara rods. The narrow definition also excludes lots of interesting rods - rods that in some cases are better suited to the way we actually fish than "tenkara" rods are. Even worse, tenkara as practiced in Japan excludes some wonderful fishing opportunities. In Japan, tenkara is only practiced on mountain streams. In the US we have warm water streams, ponds and lakes full of bluegills, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappies - I mean, how could you not fish for them? There is just way too much fun to be had to limit yourself to tenkara fishing as it is done in Japan. That just makes no sense.
TenkaraBum.com will follow the second school of thought, with the further belief that "it's just fishing."
Bluegills are too much fun to ignore.
- Suntech GMR Special
- The Suntech GMR Special 36NP is a rod that blurs the boundaries. It is very light very sensitive, like a seiryu rod, while having lots of backbone, like a keiryu rod.
- Titanium Line
- Titanium line takes the high density advantage of fluorocarbon even further. It casts easily, even in the wind, and will help to sink weighted flies.
- Nissin SP
- The Nissin SP Rods are rods are for people who like long, light, soft, smooth casting rods.
- Tenkara Midi
- Tenkara Midi is a new hi-vis tapered tenkara line produced by Yoshida Kebari in Japan. It is nylon, so it is not as dense as you might want, but it casts well on a windless day.
- Killer Bugger Tying Kit
- The Killer Bugger Tying Kit has the materials you need to tie 25 Killer Buggers, plus step-by-step instructions and full color illustrations showing you how to tie them.
- Tenkara Fishing Blog
- The Tenkara Fishing Blog keeps you up to date with all the additions and changes to the TenkaraBum.com web site and tenkara fishing in the US. Subscribe here.
- TenkaraBum Store
- The TenkaraBum Store is where to go if you already know what you want (links for more info provided just in case).
- Blue Fly Challenge
- The Blue Fly Challenge: Do blue flies work? Accept the challenge. Tie flies with TenkaraBum Blue Fly Yarn, catch fish, send photos, win prizes.
- Trip Reports
- Trip reports are something I should have posted all along. These will be a series of reports on rods, lines, flies; what worked and what didn't.
- Tenkara Starter Kits
- The Tenkara Starter Kits contain everything you need to start tenkara fishing. For experienced fly fishermen: rod, line, line holders, tippet, flies. For complete beginners, add tools.
- Kids Tenkara Kit
- The Kids Tenkara Kit just seems like a natural. Kirk Deeter of Field&Stream believes tenkara is the best way to teach kids flyfishing. I agree.
- Tenkara Rods
- Tenkara rods have evolved over hundreds of years and are designed specifically for fishing in small streams. These reviews will help you choose which is right for you.
- Tenkara Line
- A variety of tenkara lines are now available. To me, the essence of tenkara is to keep the line off the water's surface. That is much easier with a lighter line.
- Tenkara Flies
- Tenkara flies are an enigma. Wide variations in Japanese regional patterns exist, yet the reknowned authority Dr. Ishigaki has used only one pattern for the past 10 years.
- Basic Fly Tying
- Basic fly tying skills, tools and materials are all you need to tie very effective tenkara flies. Tying is a great way to keep busy and still think about tenkara fishing during the off season.
- Tenkara Accessories
- Tenkara accessories are those things (beyond your rod, line and fly) you may not actually need, but are nice to have with you.
- Tenkara Techniques
- Tenkara techniques used in Japan: wet flies, the "invitation" and "throw away the fly." American techniques will differ, but this is what the rods were designed to do.
- Tenkara Books
- Tenkara Books are still almost as rare as hen's teeth, unless of course you speak Japanese, but I think these books and DVDs will be of interest to tenkara anglers.
- Your Tenkara Stories
- Your Tenkara Stories. Everyone has at least one story, First trip? The one that got away? How you outfished your buddies? What worked? What didn't? Share it here.
- Your Gear Reviews
- Your Gear Reviews - This is where you get to share your thoughts about rods, lines, accessories, etc.
- Used Tenkara Rods
- From time to time I hear of used tenkara rods that are available, and I know there are people who want them. This is a page to bring buyer and seller together.
- TanagoBum is the offshoot of TenkaraBum for those who find pleasure fishing for and catching very small fish.
- Tanago Rods
- Tanago rods are very light, very short telescopic rods designed for catching very small fish.
- The Kiyotaki are telescopic rods that are extremely light and collapse to just over 15". They are ideal for microfishing and can be used for tenkara style fishing on very tiny streams.
- Micro Fishing Hooks
- Micro fishing hooks are either hooks specifically designed for small fish, like the tanago hooks used in Japan, or fly tying hooks intended for very small flies but useful for very small fish as well.
- micro fishing kit
- The micro fishing kit has everything you been besides you rod and your bait. Hook, line and sinker, plus a float, spare hooks and indicators for subtle bites.
- Micro Fishing Photo Tank
- The Micro Fishing Photo Tank is great for photographing your catch while keeping it in water. Better for you, better for the fish.
- Micro Fishing Floats
- Micro fishing floats are floats that are small enough and sensitive enough to be used for small fish.
- microfishing tippet connectors
- Microfishing tippet connectors allow you to quickly and easily attach a snelled tanago hook to your main line. No knots or loop to loops are required.
- Micro Fishing Line
- Micro fishing line is scaled to the size of the fish. There is no point fishing for two inch fish with four pound test line. Give the micros a fighting chance.
- Minnow Bait
- Minnow Bait in a tube by Marukyu is extremely convenient and it works for various species of micros. Use just enough to cover the hook point and barb. The pink color is visible for sightfishing.
- Micro Fishing Weights
- Micro fishing weights are small small split shot or other weights that get your bait into the strike zone but aren't too heavy for micro fishing floats.
- your microfishing stories
- Your Microfishing Stories - help other microfishermen (and women) get started by sharing your stories of what has worked for you and what hasn't.
- Micro Fishing Links
- Micro Fishing Links - links to other sites that povide information about micro fishing.
- Your Keiryu Stories
- Your Keiryu Stories is a place to share your experiences with Keiryu Fishing - long rod, light line bait fishing. Very similar to tenkara (and much more popular in Japan).
- Soyokaze Gallery
- The Soyokaze Gallery is a place to upload photos of fish caught with your Daiwa Soyokaze and see what other anglers have caught.
- Kiyose Gallery
- The Kiyose Gallery is a place to upload photos of where you fish with your Daiwa Kiyose and see some of the awesome places other people take their Kiyose rods..
- Photo Credits
- Photo credits - giving credit where credit is due.
- Contact Us
- Your comments, questions and suggestions are welcome, and will help us build a site that provides the information you want.
- TenkaraBum disclaimer
- Tenkara Bum
- Hi. My name's Chris and I'm a Tenkara Bum.
- Site Map
- Site map to help you find pages not listed on the navigation bar.