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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

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.

Comments for Growth of a Tenkara Angler

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Oct 11, 2017
Thanks John!
by: Les A.

What a treat hearing your journey. I would agree 100% with your recommendation. I don't have a Suntech TenkaraBum Traveler 39, but for a beginner it would have the perfect 3 lengths to learn the craft.

What really hooked (pun intended) me on this type of fishing was the personal attention that Chris Stewart gave me when I was so frustrated with my first rod. His prescription was the Suntech Keiryu Sawanobori 63. (Not a normal beginner rod!) It revolutionized my fishing. So, if you are new, a dialogue with Chris should get you on the right path. I still love this rod!

My journey has been in the other direction, 90% flies, 10% bait before Tenkara. I am now a 60% bait, 40% fly.

After a year, I have moved from beginner to "hack." For the beginner, there is a lot of great instruction on the internet. I can't believe how much John and Paul give away free over at "Discover Tenkara." Anyone who is casually interested in growing in this craft should sign up for their free stuff. I have bought several of their downloads and Chis offers some of their DVD's on this site. I am seriously considering the Oni School next year.

Chris, how about a list of "beginner rods." (starter rods) or did I miss them somehow on your website?

John, I am still licking my wounds from the Guadalupe bass that would follow my fly during my trip to Texas, but wouldn't take it!

Oct 11, 2017
Guadalupe bass
by: John Evans

Ah, yes, Guadalupe bass can be fun . . . and frustrating! For what it's worth, my experience is that often they respond to flies that are fished very slowly. With nymphs, I usually have to let them sink all the way to the bottom, then begin to gently lift them through the water column. For dry flies, I cast, skitter them along the top a few inches, then let them just sit for 10 or more seconds. These little bass interpret too much quick movement as unnatural. The usual mistake is to work the fly too much. Guadalupe bass have a lot of wariness in them.

Oct 11, 2017
Careful what you wish for!
by: Chris Stewart

Les, if you'd had a list of starter rods, and bought based on what was on "the list" rather than how you were actually going to use the rod, you never would have gotten your Keiryu Sawanobori!

I've had a guy buy a top of the line Tenryu Furaibo TF39TA as his first tenkara rod - and it was the right "starter" rod for him because it gave him exactly what he wanted in a rod.

Buying a cheap "beginner" rod is usually a waste of money. If the beginner likes tenkara, he or she will soon buy a better rod and the beginner rod sits in a closet. If he doesn't like tenkara, it probably still sits in a closet because he might not be able to sell it. In either case, a better rod to start with probably would have saved money in the long run.

Think back on your own first "beginner" rod!

Oct 11, 2017
Great Writing, Guys!
by: Herb S.

How very different we are, from all parts of our beautiful world, with different backgrounds and different tastes. Yet, here we are, brought together by what amounts to a stick and a string, wondering who got caught, fish or fisher.

I think it’s the "basic-ness," as opposed to mere simplicity, that appeals to us who have been down the river with so much tackle over the years. At least in my case that’s true, having started fly fishing at age 12, fifty eight years ago, and having more than dabbled in spinning and baitcasting along the way.

When you think about it fly fishing is actually simple in the mechanical sense, but fixed line is basic. Even more basic is handline fishing, but that’s another story. It’s funny how basic fishing becomes more fun, interesting and challenging as the years flow on and yet beginners latch right on to fixed line, even when they had no previous interest in fishing. Folks, we might be on to something ;- )

Geography plays a part in our preferences. John, you have your Guadalupe Bass as the favorite and select your rods accordingly. Les, you have a huge variety of fish from lunker carp and trout in lakes and big rivers to headwater brookie streams and have an arsenal of rods to cover them. We have tremendous warm water fishing in SW Michigan, including lunker pike, carp, catfish and so on, but when it comes down to it my preference is for light rods to catch small to medium fish, mostly panfish and the occasional bass. Fixed line fits the bill perfectly. Trout abound up north, and on the larger or more open small streams (not brushed in) the same tackle I prefer works well there too.

My fishing is about over for a while unless I get up north for some trout. The migration to deep water has depopulated our small rivers until spring. It’ll soon be time to get ready for ice fishing. Say, the thought just struck me! I've been fixed line fishing for years through the ice. Back in the day, before those mini spinning outfits became popular, all we had were simple short poles with line winders. I used to build my own. How about that, I've been fixed line fishing as long as fly fishing! I was pre-fascinated with fixed line all these years. It’s all…
Happy fishing,

Oct 11, 2017
Thanks Chris!
by: Les A.

Folks, you can't beat the personal touch that Chris Stewart is willing to give you! You are absolutely right Chris, that I would not have found the Suntech Keiryu Sawanobori 63 on my own. It matched perfectly my need on the South Fork of the Boise River; as well as the tail waters of the Owyhee River; as well as the Wieser River; as well as the tail waters of the Boise River as well as the bass ponds less than 20 minutes from the house! It became the center from which I have built my arsenal of rods. The second rod was a Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 24 that was perfect for the small brook trout streams near my bear hunting area.

Chris talked me out of a Tenryu Furaibo! That says a lot. I am sure it isn't cheap to carry that high end rod in his inventory, and the chance to sell one isn't as important to him as a totally satisfied customer. Instead, I bought what he recommended, what is now the TenkaraBum Traveler 44. That rod has taken me far on my journey, and I have learned at least 85% of what I know about fixed line fishing using that rod. It brought my son into an excitement about fishing! I am sure there is a Tenryu Furaibo in my future, but not quite yet!

So as long as Chris is willing to put up with great personalized service - email him and get an informed recommendation! Words can't express how happy I am with his tutelage.

And he will order what you want! I am not sure if I am the only one who has a Nissin Kyogi 12 in the USA, but he got me one on special order for fishing carp in the trees. What a blast I had this summer with it. I wish I had bought my waterproof camera before that season ended to share pictures of close combat carp fishing. The most epic battle being an 8.5 pound carp in 3.5 feet of water. An 8 pound plus fish on a 11 foot 11 inch rod was thrilling and challenging in a grove of flooded trees! Better than any roller coaster ride I have ever been on!

Thanks Chris!

Oct 11, 2017
Great write up
by: Terry Farmer

Thanks for sharing your experience John. I too gravitated to lighter, softer rods as I progressed over several years. I agree with your recommendation concerning the TB Traveler 39. I'm going to wait for the 53 however and then decide on the 44 or 53. The 53 should compliment my TB 36 and 40 quite nicely. Also, you are absolutely correct about Chris. He's number 1 in my Tenkara book!

Oct 20, 2017
Same rod different paint job
by: Les A.

Terry - The Suntech GM Suikei Keiryu Special 53 is the same as the new Suntech TenkaraBum Traveler 53 will be. It is just a different paint job. That said, I love the paint job on the TenkaraBum 40, so I am sure the Traveler Rods look great too. So the rod is available. Frankly, I don't notice the paint job when I am fishing! I continue to mull over in my mind if I want to add the The Suntech GM Suikei Keiryu Special 53 or the Suntech Keiryu Sawanobori 53. Ah so many choices, so little time to fish!

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