Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Casting a Tenkara Rod

TS-Demo-02062016

Jason Sparks photo

Casting demonstrations are a great way to introduce tenkara. For the last couple of years, I have had the good fortune to do tenkara casting demos at The Fly Fishing Shows in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Lancaster, Pennsylvania and the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival.

Among the myriad benefits of fishing with a tenkara rod is how easy the rod is to cast. While the fundamental casting principles still apply, the simplicity of the outfit; just a rod and a line, make casting a very simple and intuitive process.

A fly rod and reel outfit uses a rod that is designed to cast a weighted line. As my friend Dusty Wissmath likes to say; it is a flexible lever designed to cast a flexible weight. Each rod is designed to cast a specific line weight. There needs to be a certain amount of that weighted line out beyond the rod tip to make the rod cast the line to the target. The weighted line is essential to the system. It is what allows the rod to load and make the cast.

The caster loads the rod using the force of physical energy to build potential energy (bend or “load” the rod) that when released (the rod straightens) becomes kinetic energy transferred to the line, delivering the fly to the target. The weighted line is essential to building the amount of potential energy or load in the rod.

A tenkara rod is a very flexible lever designed to cast a variety of very light lines. The line weight is not the essential element to loading the rod. Just moving your arm or flicking your wrist will load the rod. My rod of choice is a Patagonia 10′ 6″ tenkara rod.

Let’s look at the steps for casting a conventional fly rod.

  • Start with the rod tip on or near the surface of the water with two or three-rod lengths of line out in front of you.
  • Raise and accelerate the rod backward to an abrupt stop just past vertical.
  • Let the line extend straight out behind you.
  • Accelerate the rod forward to an abrupt stop with the rod tip at about head level.
  • Follow the line down to the water.

Now let’s look at the steps for casting a tenkara rod.

  • Start with the rod tip in front of you with about a rod length of line hanging from the tip of the rod.
  • Accelerate the rod backward to an abrupt stop just before or at vertical.
  • Let the line extend straight out behind you.
  • Accelerate the rod forward to an abrupt stop with the rod tip at about head level.
  • Don’t follow the line down to the water especially if you are fishing a dry fly or dry dropper.

The elements of timing, so important in the weighted line system, are not as critical with the tenkara cast because your physical energy controls the loading of the rod. The line plays a much smaller role in making the cast work. This is one of the reasons people enjoy using a tenkara rod. The casting execution is very very simple.

In addition to the above, there are other differences in casting a tenkara rod that contribute to making it easier.

  • You can use your wrist to make a cast; a big “no no” with conventional fly casting.
  • You don’t “shoot” line eliminating the need to master the “pat your head while rubbing your stomach” element of conventional fly casting.
  • You don’t need to mend the line as often or in most cases at all.
  • The cast requires less energy and is slower.
  • You tend to cast more “open” loops making casting two fly rigs less prone to tangling.

THE TAKEAWAY

Casting a tenkara rod is not a whole lot different from casting a conventional fly rod. Someone who has mastered casting a conventional rod will understand it in seconds. Most beginners will quickly get the hang of it and spend more time concentrating on fishing rather than casting, and isn’t that the whole point anyway?

Author’s note: A version of this article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

Disclosure.

They will write songs about you

Sadler-Diekmann

Alex and me on the banks of the Madison River following my wedding. Alex was one of my groomsmen and a treasured part of our day. July 9, 2006

Most readers will not have heard of Alex Diekmann, and that is not a surprise. Alex did not seek the spotlight or recognition; he let his work speak for him. But if you fish in Montana, tenkara or otherwise, you have seen or benefited from his work.

Alex and I worked together at the Trust for Public Land (TPL); he was a project manager, and I was a lobbyist. He found the places to protect, and I helped find the resources to try and protect them.

When I accepted the job at TPL, Alex called me. We had never met, and he was already getting me involved in his work.

“Hey, do you know where Three Dollar Bridge is on Madison?” Alex asked.

“I wouldn’t be much of a fly fisherman if I didn’t,” was my reply.

“So I have a chance to put an easement on the ranch where it is and create a trail connecting Three Dollar to Raynolds (Raynolds Pass Bridge). I need to generate some support for it, do you think your fly-fishing buddies would care?”

“Alex, you pull that off, and they will write songs about you.”

If you have fished at Three Dollar Bridge, you know that trail exists. And now you know to thank Alex Diekmann for getting it done.

He was infectious in his love of the land, gifted in finding unique places and tenacious in their protection. He was an artful dealmaker, at finding the right measure of charm, passion and incentive to keep people at the table and make a deal work. A testimony to Alex’s skill is how many friends he made while putting these deals together.

Alex’s friend Jeff Lazlo had started restoring the wetlands on the Lazlo family’s ranch. Alex was there to help, and O’Dell Creek is now a haven and breeding ground for native cutthroats in the Madison River. And yes, O’Dell is where Craig Matthews, Yvon Chouinard and Mauro Mazzo famously practice the gentle art of tenkara as noted in their book, Simple Fly Fishing.

A little further down the Madison Valley, before you get to Three Dollar Bridge, look to the east and see the Sun Ranch. Along with its Madison River frontage, it includes mountain creeks providing critical nursery habitat for native cutthroat. That was Alex’s handiwork.

Alex took me to the Taylor Fork during one of our trips together showing me a secret garden of prime elk and grizzly bear habitat in the Gallatin National Forest. Whenever I fish there, I think of Alex and how that magical fishing spot would not be what is today but for his tireless efforts.

Alex’s work is a gift to fisherman, and all who love the outdoors.

On February 1, 2016, nine days short of his 53rd birthday, Alex Boris Diekmann, died peacefully at his home in Bozeman, Montana. He leaves behind his wife Lisa, his sons Logan and Liam, family, friends and colleagues who will sing his song for years to come.

These other talented writers have shared Alex’s song. Please take a moment to read their wonderful tributes to this fine man and conservation hero,

By Todd Wilkinson: http://www.jhnewsandguide.com/opinion/columnists/the_new_west_todd_wilkinson/public-land-protector-was-an-unsung-hero/article_76a2a2fb-c441-57c1-95f0-30198241f235.html

By Michael Wright: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/environment/friends-colleagues-remember-passionate-conservationist/article_08acdcc5-97cf-5052-8c2b-e66f356dd10a.html

By Jeff Lazlo: http://www.flyrodreel.com/blogs/tedwilliams/2016/february/madison-loses-friend

His legacy in pictures: http://portal.tplgis.org/arcgis/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=a0b0a71a55aa4ddb97498cf089dc5e31

Author’s note: This article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

Lefty on tenkara

Last July at the International Fly Tackle Dealer show I had the chance to sit down with Lefty Kreh and talk tenkara. Visiting with Lefty is one of the great experiences in fly fishing. Despite all of his notoriety, he is generous with his time and a very entertaining raconteur. His wealth and breadth of fly fishing history and knowledge are astonishing.

As I sat chatting about tenkara with him, I was struck by his genuine interest in the method and how he sees it in the larger fly fishing world.

ONE FLY? MAYBE NOT.

We talked a bit about how tenkara has been both marketed and portrayed and it was clear that he doesn’t have a lot of patience with the “one fly only” crowd, a position we have in common. He suggested that the notion that a tenkara rod and one fly was always going to bring about a satisfying fly fishing experience was overblown.

“If someone buys one tenkara rod, uses only one fly, and doesn’t catch fish — they are going to be disappointed. Tenkara is a technique; you have to learn a procedure or technique and use it properly,” Kreh said.

A MAN’S GOT TO KNOW HIS LIMITATIONS

He also was concerned that the tenkara style of fly fishing not be oversold. He pointed out there are limitations with tenkara, just as there are with any other type of fishing gear or approach. We all know it makes no sense to fish for brook trout in mountain streams with a Spey rod.

“I think we need to make people aware that there are limitations to tenkara just like any other kind of tackle,” he said.

That said, he was quick to point how well it works in the right scenarios.

“In trout fishing, if the water is moving and you can keep the fly moving at the same speed as the current, you catch trout. Tenkara is absolutely the finest way to trout fish in something like that,” Kreh said.

“There isn’t one thing that is going to do everything. Basically, that is the way I feel about tenkara.”

A GREAT GATEWAY TO FLY-FISHING

I asked Lefty if he thought tenkara could be a way to bring more newcomers into the sport of fly fishing.

“I think it has the potential to add a lot of anglers to the fly fishing world. Fly fishing isn’t about catching a lot of fish. It’s about reading about it, learning about the insects if you are a trout fisherman or learning about the tides if you are a saltwater fisherman. It’s learning to select the right tackle and learning to tie the flies,” said Kreh.

“After they start catching fish, a lot of people are going to want to taste more than just the appetizer or the first course,” he said. “They are going to want to do more; they are going to want to catch bonefish, or striped bass or albacore. So now they are going to have to go to a rod, they are going to have to go to a reel, and they may tenkara fish in some area, and that is what I am thinking is going to happen. They are going to use tenkara where it ought to be fished.”

“I think eventually a lot of people that get into tenkara are going to find there is more to it than catching fish and decide ‘I’m going to become a fly fisherman’.”

He pointed out that tenkara should be attractive to many folks who are not fly fishing now.

“There is an opportunity here for backpackers, people in kayaks, people in canoes — there is opportunities for all types of people,” he said.

THE TAKE AWAY

I admire Lefty for who he is and what he means to the sport. He is a true ambassador who calls things as he sees them. The sport is richer and more enjoyable for having him in it and when Lefty speaks, whether it is about tenkara or life, we can all learn something.

Author’s note: This article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

Disclosure.

Crowd Sourcing Tenkara Tips

I recently posed this question to a group of fellow tenkara anglers; “If you could share one tip that you think is essential to enjoying tenkara what would it be?”

The responses surprised me but maybe they shouldn’t have. After all, the whole premise behind tenkara is simplicity. The comments essentially broke down into three areas, experience the zen of tenkara, enjoy the simplicity of tenkara rigs and a few great tenkara hacks.

Get in the tenkara ‘zone’
Many anglers focused on the greater ease of focusing on the experience of being out on the water that comes with the tenkara’s inherent lack of clutter.

James Ray wrote, “For me it’s the feeling of Zen, allow yourself to become what you are doing. Leave the world and its problems at the truck, find your inner peace and become one with the fly.”‬‬

“Look all around and be a part of it. Rivers and streams are universes by themselves. Tenkara allows you to keep stealth while fishing. There’s incredible life just a footstep [in front] of you,” wrote Fabrice Golay.

“I have fly fished for 53 years and watched as the sport has become more technical and competitive. Tenkara represents the simpler side of fly-fishing to me. Don’t sweat the details, just fish!‬‬‬‬” wrote John Farmer.

Chris Stewart wrote, “One tip essential to enjoying tenkara: just do it.”

Keep it simple
There are some strong opinions on tenkara definitions, and I won’t go into that here. But common element in many of the responses was the notion of simplicity, the idea of letting the fishing, not the gear, drive the experience.

John Geer wrote, “If you come from a western fly fishing background, tenkara should be very easy to pick up. The most difficult thing may be learning to set up the rod. Make sure you’re very comfortable with that before you get to the water.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬”

“I personally love the versatility tenkara brings to the table. It’s not all about the dead drift, the manipulation of the fly is what changed the way I look at fly-fishing. The Kebari style fly can be manipulated to give it lifelike action in so many ways”, wrote Jesse Spears. “My tip to anybody getting into tenkara is to learn how to use the fly to attract strikes. The pause and drift move, plunging the fly by casting it into water falling into pools to sink the fly, or by hanging your fly in one place and letting it sit on the water are all great ways to catch fish. Pulsing the fly upstream, downstream or across a stream to give the fly life-like action (basically like a steamer) is another must have for your fish catching tool box.”

“My tip: Don’t overcomplicate things. Try to reduce the number of knots, different kinds of line, and use of Western methods”, wrote Adam Klags. Our human brains have a way of wanting to make things more complicated when they don’t have to be. Tenkara is about going back to the older and simpler ways before we overcomplicated fishing mountain streams.

Slow down and think it through. My mistake in fly-fishing was always thinking which line, reel, fly, etc. would work. The simplicity of tenkara took that out of the equation for me. My tactics and presentations have improved dramatically.‬‬‬‬”

Bill Harner wrote, “Have fun and don’t over think it. You’ll feel naked the first few times you fish without a reel and a pack full of doo-dads and 37 different patterns and flies. Have a good top water fly (I’m partial to a parachute Adams if there’s a hatch or an elk hair caddis if there isn’t any major action) and a good subsurface fly (small wooly bugger or a killer bug or killer bugger) in 2 sizes and you’ll be having fun in no time.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬”

“Focus on technique and not tools and material. Challenge yourself to get the most out of the least. Understand that most failures are the result of less than ideal technique and not the tools you’re using. Perfect your technique and the tools you have will work,‬‬‬” wrote Todd Parks.

Jesse Thomas wrote, “Take it everywhere. It’s gotta be the best keep behind the seat fishing system around. Peer into every piece of water you cross and fish every one you have time for.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬”

“Relax and Fish. It can be as simple or as complicated as you desire…but without much skill you can begin, have fun and catch fish,” wrote Adam Rieger.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jeff Krusinski echoed that sentiment, “My tip ‘Relax’.”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Have you tried this?
While the core of tenkara is the simple fly-fishing approach, the ability to adapt, modify and innovate is as much a part of tenkara as the fishing itself. In my experience those who tinker tend to lead the way to innovation. That certainly remains true in tenkara.

One of my personal favorites and an always-in-my-vest item are foam ear plugs. They make great temporary replacements for lost tip caps. Don Haynes turned me on to this hack, and it has already come in handy.

Besides losing tip caps, having the butt cap come loose and disappear can lead to multiple obvious problems. I haven’t seen a good in-the-field solution, although the foam plugs might be a quick fix, so be sure you tighten them early and often.

Dennis Vander Houwen sent me one of his rainbow color variegated furled lines on a cool looking spool, and I have been looking for them since. It was Bill Hobson’s comments that pointed me toward Bob-eez, No-Tangle Thread Bobbins from Bead Smith.

If you use multiple lines, these spools are a great way to carry them and organize them. I use the 2 ½ inch size for my lines and write the line length on the spool.

“These are the spools I got on Amazon. I use them for lines too because, unlike other spools, they don’t unravel,” wrote Hobson.‬‬‬

The takeaway
I’ll quote Yvon Chouinard; “I believe the way toward mastery of any endeavor is to work toward simplicity; replace complex technology with knowledge, hard work and skill.”

 

Author’s note: This article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

Disclosure.

Streamer Tenkara

Most people don’t think of tenkara when they think of fishing streamers. Dries, soft hackles, sakaska kebari? Yes. Streamers? Not so much. But tenkara can be an effective method for fishing streamers, especially in the winter months when the dries and terrestrials are taking a break.

What makes a tenkara rod an effective streamer tool is the ability to subtlety manipulate the streamer in the water. The soft action of the tenkara rod helps impart small strike-inducing twitches or jumps.

This is a downstream fishing technique for the most part, but you can use a dead drift, pause and twitch as well. Because of the versatility of the tenkara rod, you have a range of options.

LINE LENGTH

I recommend fishing a stiffer action rod like the Patagonia 10 foot, six-inch Soft Hackle. You can use a longer line then when fishing dries because you will be dropping the line on the water as you fish downstream. My line of choice on my local spring creeks has been 15 to 18 feet of Patagonia’s floating line made of a small-diameter, hard mono core and a supple PVC coating.

Attach a seven-foot, six-inch 3x leader to a floating line with a perfection or double surgeon’s knot. I know this seems like a large knot and it would be for dry flies, but the goal is to keep tension on the line and the drag from the knot helps. The longer leader helps get the streamer down lower in the water column.

You can also switch to a shorter main line (12 feet) and longer leader (9 feet) if you are fishing deeper water or not getting the streamer down where you want it.

CASTING AND FISHING

Make a quartering (45-degree) downstream cast. Then, as soon as the flies are in the water, make a downstream mend. This mend gets the slack out and swings the streamer across the current. The key is to maintain direct control of the fly.

When the flies are downstream you can make subtle twitches by putting your thumb on top of the rod and squeezing the cork with your fingers. You don’t want to make big moves, just a small twitch to make the fly pulse. Time and again I have had fish hit at the end of the twitch, thanks to their predatory instinct.

Because you have heavy flies you need to use a cast that keeps tension in the system. I use a Belgian cast most of the times. Slide the line along the water starting with the rod tip low, then slowly raise the rod. When about half the line is behind you, smoothly accelerate forward, stopping at a point where the line can unroll in front of you just above the water. Keep the line in constant motion and under tension until you come to the stopping point for your forward cast.

FLY CHOICES

The streamers in my box are typically bead or cone head wooly buggers, kreelex, retrievers and sculpin imitations. I have found that size 6 is about as big as I feel comfortable tossing with a tenkara rod. Most of the time I am swimming them, but the retriever can be dead drifted as well.

Recently I adapted the soft hackle technique I described in Two Fly Tenkara to my streamer fishing. I have added a soft hackle or nymph on a dropper. The easiest way to tie on the dropper is with a dropper loop and a separate piece of tippet attached to the leader above streamer.

Tie in a length of tippet for the streamer, say 3 feet. Now take six to nine inches of the same size tippet and tie a perfection loop or double surgeons loop on one end. Hitch the section of tippet to the leader by taking the tag end through the loop and tightening it above the knot to the last section of tippet. Tie your fly to the tag end and you are set to go.

A word of caution here; two fly rigs, if not cast well, can tangle quickly, so casting fundamentals are key. The most fundamental of fundamentals is keep slack out of the system.

THE TAKEAWAY

If you are going to go down and dirty, don’t put your tenkara rig on the shelf. You can fish streamers effectively and if the dries start to pop, you can get in the game with a quick line change.

Author’s note: This article first appeared in Hatch Magazine.

Products mentioned and shown here are available at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing.

Disclosure.

Tenkara Flies

Most anglers have likely noticed the proliferation of tenkara rods which has given anglers a variety to choose from and has driven innovation and design in the marketplace. Not far behind is the variety and innovation in lines used when fishing a tenkara rod. All of this is good in my book, as one of the best things about fly-fishing, especially with new tools and styles like tenkara, is the opportunity to tweak, adapt, mess with and play with different ways to fish.

But what about the flies? Flies are another unique aspect of tenkara and discussing them, much like lines and rods, is likely to spark debate on size, shape and color.

A LITTLE HISTORY

Like most things tenkara, we look to Japan for much of the history. Traditional Japanese “kebari” (flies) patterns are likely at least 400 years old and may be considerably older. The kebari patterns are distinguished by hackle style and hook shape. Much like today, where you fished and what you fished for dictated the style of kebari used.

One distinct characteristic of the Japanese kebari is the reverse hackle. The hackle feather is tied to the hook in a way that has the tips pointing forward toward the eye of the hook rather than back toward the bend of the hook. In the U.S., this style has become synonymous with “tenkara flies.” While the reverse hackle kebari is distinctive, it is by no means the only style used by tenkara anglers in Japan.

flies

Patagonia’s soft hackle selection.

KEBARI IN THE USA

For most of the time I have fished tenkara, I have fished the “regular” fly patterns that were common and available wherever I was fishing. If I wanted to use a reverse hackle kebari, I needed to look to Tenkara USA or local tiers for these rarely seen flies. More recently, however, tenkara flies have become considerably more widespread.

Last July, while cruising the booths at the fly fishing industry trade show, IFTD, a display of tenkara flies in the Umpqua booth caught my eye. Umpqua Feather Merchants Fly Manager Brian Schmidt explained their interest and reason for bringing their tenkara flies to market.

“It is something the industry needed,” said Schmidt. “We wanted to come up with some authentic, realistic patterns as well as some patterns that were going to cross over for people who may be interested in tenkara but not understand the flies themselves.”

Umpqua asked Craig Mathews of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Montana to help create their tenkara fly selection.

“The challenge for us has become how to generate a limited number of flies, with either a new design or by modifying existing Umpqua patterns, that will become the foundation for Umpqua’s new tenkara selection. Within this initial assortment we cover multiple types of flies that are effective in a diverse range of geographical locations,” says Mathews.

“I felt that designing dry fly patterns that mimic the behavior and movement of natural insects was important for tenkara anglers; flies that skittered and could be fished much like a living insect — midges and caddis for instance. Because I can get closer to rising trout while fishing a tenkara rod, keep my line off the water to not spook rising fish, and presenting a pinpoint accurate cast, I found it even more effective to design flies that move and give the illusion of life.”

MOVEMENT IS LIFE

While this may sound like heresy to some, the fact is that dry flies imitate living insects. They move twitch, fidget, flutter and fly off. Fly tiers work hard to design flies that impart a subtle, lifelike action to their designs. Having the advantage of a reverse hackle on dry flies makes sense.

“Unlike traditional patterns the hackle on this emerger is designed to stand away from the body and pulse in the current where BWO’s emerge and trout feed heavily on them,” writes Mathews, referring to Umpqua’s Tenkara BWO Emerger.

A more lifelike fly combined with the exceptional line control inherent in tenkara style fly-fishing is a deadly combination.

THE SOFT HACKLE RENAISSANCE

Soft hackles have been around for years and while they fell out of favor in many fly shops for a short time they are returning to fly bins more and more. The tenkara style of fly-fishing lets you get the most out of soft hackles. The superior ability to subtly twitch the fly by gently moving the rod tip to pulse the hackle imparts an action to the fly that trout often find irresistible.

Patagonia’s approach to tenkara also fully embraces the use of soft hackle flies. They offer a box of a dozen soft hackles in four different patterns (with traditional, not reverse hackles). “A simpler approach is to focus on keeping a more suggestive pattern where the fish are likely to be feeding and imparting lifelike action to trigger a strike. The four soft-hackle patterns in this box of flies help you do just that, covering the range of hatches most commonly encountered on stream, and are meant to be fished just under the surface of the water to represent an emerging insect,” they write on their website.

THE TAKEAWAY

The reverse hackle kebari and the reemergence of soft hackle flies provide both tenkara and rod and reel anglers with some innovative and effective new fly choices. You might want to add a few to your fly box.