Tenkara fly fishing is the method Japanese fly fishers use when fishing their mountainous, fast flowing, small trout streams. It is a markedly different technique from our western style of fly fishing. A Tenkara fly rod ranges from 10 to 14 feet in length. No reel is ever used on this rod. The line is attached to the tip of the rod, which has a thin one-and-one-half-inch-long woven line permanently attached to it. This short piece of line is called a “lilian.” A length of fluorcarbon or nylon monofilament is tied to the lilian. This is the casting line. In reality, you are casting a long leader. The casting line is usually three to five feet longer than the length of the rod, which is made of eight to 10 tubular sections that telescope into each other. When fishing, one section after another is pulled from the butt until the rod is fully extended.
After reading articles written by Yvon Chouinard and Misako Ishimura, I was tempted to try this very different style of fly fishing. After purchasing a nine-foot Tenkara rod, I built a 13-foot monofilament line to use on it. June 18, I drove to a small Catskill tributary and proceeded to fish Tenkara style. With my bad knee, I knew I would have to wade very cautiously, but I just had to go fishing. I fished through the afternoon, at times casting my fly upstream and sometimes downstream. I tried a variety of casts including the bow and arrow cast, which is easy to do with this very flexible rod. I have never felt so frustrated and disappointed on a trout stream. Compared to casting a silk fly line on a bamboo fly rod, casting a Tenkara rod is a joyless experience. The pleasure derived from western style casting is simply absent when casting a Tenkara rod. This disastrous afternoon of fishing came to a perfect end when I was unable to get the tip section to slide back into the next lower section. After struggling to accomplish this for some 20 minutes, I eventually snapped the section below the tip in half. I imagine that for some fly fishers, Tenkara fishing will prove to be interesting. As for me, my desire to fish in this manner has evaporated.
I related my sad story to Ed Van Put, who has used a Tenkara rod successfully. Ed told me he usually tries to fish the small tributaries early in the year, when they are running high, and a bit discolored. When the flows are low and clear, Ed said the trout are very spooky and Tenkara fishing becomes extremely difficult. After the next heavy rain, I will try one of the tributaries again, but will fish western style.
By the time you read these words, we will be preparing to celebrate the Fourth of July. Yeehah! I imagine this will be a time of golfing, swimming, canoeing, fishing and bratwursts and beer. Let the good times roll. I would however, like to suggest you briefly interrupt your celebrations for just 10 minutes. With your family gathered together, have one person thoughtfully read aloud our Declaration of Independence. After all, lacking these words, there would be no Fourth of July celebrations. Is 10 minutes to long to take, in order to rehear these timeless words? I hope not.