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

Tenkara Myth Buster

Here at the Dispatches news desk we are always on the look out for helpful info to share. We are especially quick to rise to the defense of Tenkara fishing.

Jason Klass over on Backpacker FlyFishing Blog did a fantastic job of answering some of the questions about Tenkara style fishing. His post 5 Tenkara Myths Busted is well worth a read and for sharing with friends who scoff at the notion of Tenkara fishing.

Counting coup


It is not always the best time for fishing, at least in the mountain streams here in Virginia. The water levels can be iffy and more importantly the brook trout are going about their biological imperative. Don’t want to upset that apple cart!

So with time on my hands I like to go scout out some of my favorite streams or pick a new blue line to investigate.

When I am fishing I tend to get a little tunnel vision. I am looking through the water so hard that I sometimes forget to look around and enjoy the view. I probably know my location on many streams by what the bottom of the stream looks like rather than what the banks or surroundings look like.

For me fall is a great time for hiking and sight (site?) seeing. I still look at the water but I really have a chance to see what is surrounding all that water. A chance to see where I am fishing not just what I am fishing.

Of course I tote my tenkara rod and a few flies. And while I am not looking to fish, if the brookies happen to be rising then I just might decide to float a dry their way. But in the fall I like to just count coup on them.

How to count coup

During the year some of my flies will get the hooks broken at the bend. I keep the Adams’, BWOs or  Wulffs  and use them in the fall. I am not trying to catch the fish, just trying to get them to take the fly.

Counting coup.

Kind fun and let’s them get back to the more important business of reproduction.

Tenkara success

The end to a beautiful fall day on the Dry River.

finest kind cap'n...

Tenkara in the Ozarks

As a tenkara fan, I keep my eye’s peeled for posts, tweets, updates etc on anything related to tenkara style fly-fishing. Brian Wise‘s post at Fly Fishing the Ozarks quickly caught my eye. It is a great post on the “feel” you get when you use a tenkara rod for nymphing. He also points out how using a tenkara rod is a lot less tiring.

Take it away Brian > Tenkara meets Southern Missouri….and France?

Tenkara 411

Because I get questions about fishing tenkara style, I pulled together some information. I also posted it on the Gone Fishing page so it is easy find to refer to.

For those unfamiliar with tenkara, it is a traditional Japanese method of fly-fishing. It reduces fly-fishing to three basic elements, a rod, a line and a fly. It has been used for centuries in Japan’s high mountain streams. Tenkara is all about simplicity. You focus on the fishing rather than the gear.

For brook trout fishing in the mountains I use the Tenkara USA Iwana in the 11′ length and 6:4 action. I use a 10′ 6″ traditional tenkara line attached to the tip  of the rod with a simple girth hitch. I tie about 9″ of 4x tippet to the end of the line, then about 12-18″ of 5x or 6x tippet to that depending on the conditions.

Because it flexes so much in the upper section especially at the tip, it readily protect a light tippet. While the rod appears delicate, it has held up exceptionally well under the rigors of fishing, traveling, bush whacking and teaching.

As you will quickly discover, tenkara style fishing gives you incredible drag free drifts. Often three and four times as long as you might get with a conventional outfit. And those drag-free drifts are one of the most important elements for fishing success.

It is a great teaching tool. It makes teaching the basics very easy, getting the student on the water and fishing sooner. It allows the teacher and student to focus more on fishing technique and not have to work so much on line management and casting skills.

Tenkara doesn’t replace conventional fly fishing, however. There are fishing situations where long casts and heavier lines are required.

Here are some links with more information about tenkara.

Tenkara USA’s website, has a wealth of information. There you can find information on the origins and history of tenkara, video’s and diagrams of casting techniques.

In the spirit of full disclosure because I am a professional guide and instructor I get a professional discount from Tenkara USA. They did not compensate me for writing or posting this.

Exploring the simplicity of tenkara fly-fishing

New and interesting places to fish are not really hard to find. New and interesting ways to fish, especially fly-fish, on the other hand are somewhat hard to find.

A while back I read an article in Fly Rod and Reel magazine about Patagonia founder and CEO Yvon Chouinard. Chouinard was named angler of the year by the magazine and talked about his efforts to simplify his sports and life.

He mentioned that he had been given a tenkara rod. His description of the rod and the style of fishing intrigued me. That description and the notion of simplifying fly-fishing stuck with me. I was on the lookout for a tenkara rod and the “how to” of tenkara fishing.

Tenkara, a traditional Japanese method of fly-fishing, reduces fly-fishing to three basic elements, a rod, a line and a fly. It has been used for centuries in Japan’s high mountain streams to fish for Yamame trout.

The idea that such a rod and style of fishing might be applied to our own native brook trout in the mountain streams here in the Valley fascinated me.

One of Chouinard’s close friends is my good friend Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Mont. I called Craig and asked if he had seen Chouinard fish with the tenkara rod.

“Oh yeah, we have been fishing O’Dell crick with them, it’s a blast,” said Mathews.

Tenkara rods range from 11 to 13 feet, weigh as little as two and a half ounces and collapse down to 20 inches. The line is very light and supple, doesn’t hold water and designed to balance with tenkara rods. These light lines, resembling furled leaders, make for very delicate and precise presentations with incredible drag free drifts.

I bought a rod made by Tenkara USA from Mathews. It is their Iwana model in the 5:5 action. Action in fly-fishing parlance means how stiff or flexible the rod is and how fast or slow the rod returns to the unflexed position. In the case of the rod I purchased, the 5:5 mean it is very flexible and slow.

Tenkara rods have evolved from bamboo to modern day graphite composites. These new rods are light and strong like today’s conventional fly-rods. Tenkara USA’s rods are telescopic, with all pieces fitting inside the handle, making then easy to transport, set up and take down. The tenkara fly-line is attached to the tip of the rod with a girth hitch.

Many people upon seeing a tenkara rod think it is just a fancy cane pole and you are just “dapping” the fly. Not true at all. All the casts you would make with a conventional fly-rod are used with a tenkara rod.

I have yet to try it in the mountains but did have a chance to try it out on Mossy Creek with my wife recently. We adjusted our normal casting techniques to the slower action of the tenkara rod. Very quickly we were making precise overhead casts and getting far longer drifts with a dry fly than we would normally get.

What struck us both was how easy it would be for someone just starting out or wanting to learn fly-fishing. Tenkara makes teaching the basics very easy, getting you on the water and fishing sooner. It allows the teacher and student to focus more on fishing.

Tenkara USA’s Web site, has a wealth of information. There you can find information on the origins and history of tenkara, video’s and diagrams of casting techniques.

Perhaps the notion of a simpler life with a focus on skill rather than gear sounds good to you. Check out tenkara, you just may find you like the simple life.

You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.