Tenkara... taken with a grain of salt.

by Rory E. Glennie
(Vancouver Island B.C.)

Saltwater crossover fly pattern?... looks like it.

Saltwater crossover fly pattern?... looks like it.

Tenkara... taken with a grain of salt.

In keeping with the translation of “tenkara” as being “from the sky”, it should come as no surprise a downstream migration of Tenkara fly fishing techniques from high mountain streams and alpine tarns down to the ocean has occurred.

Pretty well anywhere those mountain brooks, or the main stream they contribute to, spill out into the briny there exists a relatively shallow estuary teeming with life. The fresh/salt-water interface is fecund and attracts several species of fish Tenkara anglers might find interesting and fun to catch; even though most fly fishers with regular Western fly tackle turn their noses up at the thought of catching such small, inelegant quarry.

Some of the common fish encountered, at least here around Vancouver Island, are Staghorn Sculpins, Surf Perch, juvenile Lingcod and Sole – or Flounder if you will. The glamour species, sea-run Cutthroat trout, are there too and may be encountered during any given day at surfside. These are all willing biters and strong pullers on the end of your line.

Keeping it in perspective; these species, in this habitat, are not the denizens of the deep which make headlines. A large Staghorn Sculpin will measure about ten inches long; a full-sized Flounder will be about the size of a dinner plate; juvenile Lingcod, although mirroring the gnarly countenance of the 20 to 40 lb. adults, will stretch to eight inches or so. Surf Perch that cover the palm of your hand are an outstanding catch. And so it goes. Just remember, no matter the size, these fish are fighting for their lives when hooked; they are constantly on the menu of predatory fish, birds and mammals and that fact seems to energize them beyond their diminutive size.

This salt-water beach fishery goes on all year. These fish live and feed there and munch down a variety of foodstuffs: euphausiids, sea-worms, shrimp, smaller fish and pretty much any insect or critter blown out into the water. Suffice to say, they are not particular about which fly pattern you offer. Or looking at it this way; the Tenkara creed of “one fly is as good as another” works just fine out at the tide line. Crossing over from freshwater to salt brought with it a new venue for a standby Tenkara fly pattern; the Utah Killer Bug. That’s right, the little nondescript, pinkish hued everything fly works a charm in the ocean. Perhaps, to a fish it resembles a shrimp or a multi-legged euphausiid, who knows, but twitching it along with the rod tip gets their attention and they take it confidently.

Chest waders are pretty much the order of the day when at the beach. Not so much for wading as deep as you can get, more for keeping dry and warm in the ever present wavelets. Wet-wading is OK for short periods on the hottest summer days. Breathable waders make fishing at the beach comfortable in any weather.

Here on the "wet" coast a tidal waters angling licence is required to fly fish in the salt. This low cost permit is conveniently available online through the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website at: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/rec/index-eng.htm

Remember; salt water is corrosive. That should not be a great concern if you rinse off your tackle with fresh water after a day at the beach. Make sure no salt residue clings to the rod sections as this may compromise the ability to seat properly or take them apart. Even rinsed flies will retain some salt. Although thoroughly dried, never put a used fly back in with other flies. A separate container for experienced flies will stem the spread of corrosion.

Again, this is a year around fishery. When streams are in high freshet or frozen over or during a closed period or for whatever reason may not be fishable; the public beaches beckon the itinerant Tenkara fly fisher.

Return to Your Tenkara Stories.

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” - Benjamin Franklin

"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.

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