Tenkara Comes to the Wilder

Tenkara Comes to the Wilder


This week we received 2 new Tenkara rods at the Wilder and are looking forward to offering a new fly fishing experience for our owners and guests.

Tenkara is the traditional method of Japanese fly fishing and consists of a 12-14 foot lightweight, very flexible rod, a fixed line of 15-20 feet and tippet to attach your fly. No reel is used. It is kind of like cane pole fishing but using modern materials.

Although I have played around a little with a Tenkara rod, my first true experience was today on the Taylor river at the Wilder. I rigged up the 13’6” Amago telescoping rod, added about 18’ of the recommended mono line, attached a 6x tippet and got ready to go fishing.

The masters of Tenkara fly fishing in Japan use very unique flies, tied with only 2 materials besides the barbless hook; thread and a hackle. The hackle is tied pointing forward over the hook eye so the rear of the fly hangs down in the water. Exactly the opposite of most western fly patterns. To get the most out of my Tenkara experience, I sat and tied a few flies, using only a #16 dry fly hook, #6 yellow thread and some deer hair. I tied the deer hair pointing forward and finished the body with thread wraps. These dries are fished with no floatant so as not to introduce chemicals into the water.

Typically this time of year, the fish are fairly difficult to move in the mornings so my expectations weren’t high when I walked to the river. As the length of line you use with a Tenkara rod is fixed and not that long, I moved very quietly into position and flipped the dry up into some soft water above me. The fly drifted about 6” and a beautiful fall colored 17 inch Brown came up and sipped it in. Fish on! This is a new experience!

The Tenkara philosophy says that the harder that you pull on a fish, the harder it pulls on you. I know this to be true and with that in mind I kept gentle pressure on the fish and to my surprise, landed and released him very quickly.

The biggest challenges in Tenkara fishing are fighting and landing the fish. If the fish runs, you have only the length of the rod and line to work with and because the line is longer than the rod, the angler must gently grab the line with the non-rod hand to play the fish into the net. This is not recommended in fast water as the fine tippets can easily snap.

After drying my fly, I selected another spot on the edge of the current and after about 3 drifts…Boom! Another Brown, this one a tad bigger, came up and confidently ate the strange looking Tenkara fly. He put put up quite a tussle and I had to actually move around quite a bit to keep from breaking him off.

This happened time and again and the reasons became obvious. The long length of the rod allows a much better drift than conventional fly tackle, and more importantly, the presentation of the fly with the Tenkara rod is much softer on the water. Instead of a heavy fly line hitting the water, the light mono line allows the fly to float down as gently as a natural insect. In low clear water situations like we have on the Taylor, presentation is everything.

Just before exiting the water, I drifted the fly over a deep hole and a Brown came up and ate the fly that was a good 25 inches. This is the biggest Brown I’ve seen eat a dry in the Taylor this season and I couldn’t believe that he ate this new fly less than 10 feet from me. I kept gentle pressure on him for as long as I could and then in a snap he was gone… Some fish are not meant to be caught by tackle this light.

After lunch I had a chance again to try the new rod. Fish were occasionally rising for egg laying caddis as they danced on the water. I tied a simple caddis with gray thread and deer hair, this time with the hair tied back over the body..western style.

The dancing caddis are hard to imitate as the fish watch them bounce off of the water several times before making a stab for them. With the long Tenkara rod and the light line, I was able to hold the fly so it bounced up and down off the water just like the naturals. A light upstream breeze aided my efforts and in a short few minutes I had landed several nice fish by “twitchin em” up.

When I left the river, I had a smile on my face that reminded me of being a kid again. In this age of modern, high tech, complicated, over engineered products, the simplicity and effectiveness of the Tenkara rod proves true what most of us know already..“keep it simple, stupid”.

I’ll be looking forward to spending more time on the water with this new tool and sharing what I learn with our guests and owners at the Wilder.

Lu Warner

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