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Growth of a Tenkara Angler
by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)
My Favorite Fish for Tenkara Angling: A Guadalupe bass in the Blanco River Just North of San Antonio
I’m coming up on my fourth anniversary of tenkara angling. Many folks have more experience with this type of fishing than I do, and others are just getting started. Looking back over the months of learning, I’ve observed a definite change in what I like and don’t like. I think most tenkara anglers will follow their own track across time as they grow into the sport. This, I think, is especially true if they have no previous experience with fly fishing of any kind.
While I had the barest notion of western-style fly fishing when I started, almost all of my “on-water” experience was with baitcasting and regular spinning gear. Boy, the first time I picked up a tenkara rod, it felt way too light and whippy! What am I supposed to do with this thing that’s waving around like a pencil-thin willow branch? Even the relatively-stiff Daiwa Kiyose 30 SF felt too limber.
But all of that changes over time when you handle a number of different tenkara and keiryu rods. I still like my Kiyose, but now it feels too stiff for most of my fishing. One natural change that happens with many tenkara anglers is that they become more sensitive to the rods and their capabilities. You also learn to appreciate the ability of a soft, full-flex rod to control a respectable fish . . . once your technique improves!
Nissin Air Stages and Zerosums really have an appeal for me now. My Tenryu Furaibo TF39 red beauty is a genuine pleasure to cast. But NO WAY could I have fully appreciated these rods when I first started. These are not the kind of rods I’d recommend for beginners.
So, my first change was to gravitate toward softer, lighter, rods. This change took months to occur.
The next step was to move from live bait to artificial flies. I still use live and preserved baits, but the first time I caught a fish on a Utah Killer Bug . . . man, I was the one hooked! It takes a while to learn to present the fly correctly, but you just keep working at it. When I first started, I was about 90% live bait and 10% artificial flies. Now, it’s the other way around.
The third step was to move toward tying my own flies. In the beginning, as I gravitated toward flies, I’d go into one of the fishing mega-stores and grab whatever looked good. Then one day when I visited, the salesman was giving a fly-tying demonstration. Well, that was too cool not to try. Once you tie a fly, and then catch a fish on the fly you’ve tied, another world opens. It was almost impossible to believe that I had fooled a fish on a bit of yarn and thread that I’d whipped on a hook.
My final step (to date) is to use more dry flies. The other day I fished a little creek with a bleached elk hair caddis pattern I had tied. What fun! What an amazing experience to see a Guadalupe bass stealthily approach the caddis and then slam it all at once. It’s one of the best fishing experiences I can imagine. But I just wouldn’t have been as successful, or even have known what to do or what to expect, even a year ago.
If I was starting out today, what rod would I suggest? Well, it’s encouraging to witness how much tenkara equipment has improved in the United States in the last four years. I own many fine rods now, but I think I’d recommend the TenkaraBum Traveler 39 as a first purchase. That one rod will take you from live bait to flies, from smaller fish to larger ones, and from smaller streams to rivers. It’s hard to go wrong with a rod like that.
Just experience your journey slowly, savoring both successes and failures. Remember that what you like today may not please you as much tomorrow. Hey, I fish in warm water in South Central Texas, and your situation may be entirely different. Figure out what works for you and remember that you’ll make some mistakes along the way. Also, don’t feel as if you have to apologize to anyone for your preferences in tenkara. Learning is a big part of the fun.
“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin
"Study to be quiet." - Izaak Walton 1653
"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." Col. Robert Venables 1662
As age slows my pace, I will become more like the heron.
The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.
Beware of the Dogma