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.
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.