What is Tenkara?

A lot of people are describing tenkara very well, what the essence is, where and when to use it and what kind of equipment should be used to practise tenkara. Unfortunately I haven’t found a solid definition for Tenkara, I’m sure there has to be one but a lot of it is written in Japanese which most of us do not understand that well. From reading articles and consulting Dr. Ishigaki,  Daniel Galhardo from TenkaraUsa, Misako Ishimura a co-writer of thevery first book  about Tenkara in the English language, Chris Steward from Tenkarabum.com and many other people, I came to this conclusion and definition;

 

Tenkara is a fly-fishing method developed on the mountainstreams in Japan. The essence lies on simplicity, efficiency and the skills of the fisherman. The equipment plays a smaller part in the matter. Although, you do need some essentials; specialised equipment to practise Tenkara. It is practised with a very flexible rod between 11 and 15 feet long, a fluorocarbon- or nylon-line (tapered or leveled between a 15 and 22 pound test), a tippet and one unweighted fly. It is up to the fisherman his skills to fish that fly dry, wet or deep as a nymph. But what sets most of these techniques within tenkara a part is, that tenkara is fly fishing with a fixed line and that we keep with most techniques as less line as possible on the water-surface. This to reduce drag and, without other currents within the mountainstream affecting the fly’s natural behaviour. The long rod is a big help keeping the line of the water and to keep the fly right on the spot where you want it, with the right amount of control over the fly that you want. You have the utmost control over the action of your fly. The fly design does not matter as much as you should think either. In most mountainstreams is a redundancy of insect life so as long as it looks like an insect, and if your presentation- and manipulation- skills with the fly permit it, the fish will take the fly. So also in this subject the essence lies on simplicity, efficiency and the skills of the fisherman.

 Some may agree with me, some don't. This is as I said my own definition and how I look at Tenkara in its purest form. There are other ways in which you can use a Tenkara rod but it is not being seen as pure Tenkara. Now I could stop here and leave it with that but I am not going to do that. I will go through this definition with you guys and explain it to the best of my abilities.  

Tenkara is a fly fishing method developed on the mountainstreams of Japan. The essence lies on simplicity, efficiency and the skills of the fishermen. The equipment plays a smaller part in the matter.

The people that started with Tenkara were very poor mountain-men that fished for a living. The fishermen were professional fishermen that sold their caught fish in the mountain-villages. Because they were so poor they made flies of everything that they could find, they tied most of the time one easy to tie type of fly. Weight on their flies was not an option because that meant that they had to buy that weight which they could not afford. The rods were made out of bamboo which they had easy access to and the lines were made of horse hair. They fished this fly in different ways and it depends on the skills of the fishermen if they caught something or not. They need to keep it very simple and efficient, because it was their livelihood.

 

Although, you do need some essentials; specialised equipment to practise Tenkara.

It is practised with a very flexible rod between 11 and 15 feet long, a fluorocarbon- or nylon-line (tapered or leveled between a 15 and 22 pound test). The long rod makes it possible to keep all the line of the watersurface so that drag is almost no problem anymore. Furthermore, you can place the fly exactly where you want without currents interfering with the line and therefore creating drag, as is the case in traditional fly fishing. And because the rods are so long they can almost reach any place you want when it comes to mountainstreams. Because it is there where Tenkara is developed. Keeping as much line of the watersurface is then also one of the most known characteristics of Tenkara. But coming back towards the equipment, a rod, a line and a fly.

The rods are now telescopic and from carbon fibre which makes them very light and easy to handle. A 14 foot rod is transformed into a mere 25 inches telescopic rod. The line is nowadays a fluorcarbon or nylon line with a strength between the 15 and 22 pound. Do not forget this is still fly fishing so the line still serves as the weight that loads the rod and by doing that transporting the fly with it. There are different kind of rods which all have a different kind of stiffness. The rods are most of the time classified in 5:5, 6:4 , 7:3. It means that in a 5:5 rod there are 50% stiff parts and the other 50 % which are lying towards the tip of the rod, are the softer parts. So a 7:3 rod is stiffer because it has 70% stiff parts in the rod and towards the tip of the rod, which is only 30% of the total length are the softer parts. A 5:5 rod is therefore a soft rod, better suited for smaller fish. A 7:3 rod is better suited for the bigger fish. But I would not aim for fish over 50 cm. Tenkara is not a method to aim for the big fish.

 

What about the fly then?

Well that is very easy! Tenkara is developed on mountainstreams where there is most of the time not much insectlife. The streams are fast flowing and the fish cannot afford it to be picky. It has literally no time to inspect the fly. Has it a buglooking appearance then the fish will take it. Is it not edible, then they will spit it out again. When you look at most of the tenkara flies they have a body and a hackle, there is no thorax and no tail. The hackle creates movement underneath the surface if you want it to and it helps your fly to float. Most Tenkara fishermen use just one fly, after all it are your skills that have to do the talking not the fly. You as the fishermen decide how you want to present the fly. This can be dry, wet or as a nymph. Here it is a matter of presentation and manipulation of your fly, not imitation as in traditional fly fishing!

 

This was a very short explanation but by far not sufficient enough for you to go out fishing! To be short;

 

1 A Long telescopic rod

2 A Fixed Line

3 Keep all the line from the surface

4 One Fly (presentation and manipulation are the key)

5 Fishing techniques are very important

6 Simplicity and efficiency in all its aspects