What the hell is it, right? That's got to be the first question for most folks.
It's a Japanese-style of mountain stream fly fishing that was popularized over 100 years ago, but has been in existence for perhaps well over 1,000 years. And thanks to Daniel Galhardo, the founder of Tenkara USA, and his effective campaign to introduce Tenkara to Western flyfishermen, it's popping up in traditional magazine articles and social media more and more.
But what the hell is it, right?
I've yet to fish Tenkara, but I'm wildly intrigued. I'm by choice a stream fisherman first, and the idea of a style of flyfishing that is so specific to that setting is certainly appealing. Tenkara uses a telescoping, carbon fiber rod that shrinks down to about 20" and stretches to 11-13 ', depending on the rod choice. The whole set-up only weighs 3 oz. because...wait for it...there's no reel. For camping, hiking, mountain stream flyfishing, a collapsible, 3 oz. rod is the holy grail. But no reel?
With Tenkara rods, instead of using a rell you tie a tapered furled Tenkara line to the tip of the rod. No reel. No guides either. It's an odd-looking set-up, as the Tenkara rod itself comes with a small tip extension made of strong braided material (called the lilian string). It is to this lilian string that you actually attach the Tenkara line. You can also use a Tenkara level line, but Galhardo advises against using traditional Western flyline because of the weight, drag, and absorption. Damn, that would have made it even easier.
Which gets to the coolest part of Tenkara flyfishing - it's supposed to be incredibly delicate, with the flyline never resting in the water. Drag-free flyfishing! You essentially tip up, and the ultra-light Tenkara line is designed to resist drag, even in the fastest, most churned up water. This style of flyfishing is all about the delicate presentation, and far less about matching the hatch (though there are a variety of Tenkara dry and wet flies). Since the line and tippet length (you can use Western tippets!) essentially match or are slightly longer than the rod length, you have a casting reach of about 25'. Perfect for small stream fishing.
The typical motion for a Tenkara cast is apparently 10-12, a departure from the longer 10-2 casting stroke in western flyfishing. And it can be reduced even further. So despite the typically lengthier rods, the motion should make Tenkara casting a bit friendlier in tight, woodsy confines. And the sling cast - in which you pull the lure alongside the rod and then "pop" it out to the water - gives you even more casting dexterity in even tighter spaces.
One of my reservations with Tenkara is that it doesn't seem too far afield from fishing when you were a kid and you found a stick, tied a line to it, and added a spoon and a hook. It did originate from bamboo rods, and began as a commercial/survival venture more than the contemplative art. But damn, it looks interesting! And Galhardo has done a helluva a job setting up his website with all the information, equipment, line, flies, and even video that I'll need to start. Take a look at their excellent website at www.tenkarausa.com.
Kirk Deeter just wrote in the Field & Stream flyfishing blog, Fly Talk, that 2012 may well be the Year of the Carp for flyfisherman (and him in particular). I wholeheartedly agree...but maybe there's a little room for the year of Tenkara as well.
I'm counting on you, Santa. A 12-ft., 6:4 action Tenkara Iwana rod. Maybe some Tenkara line. I'm good on everything else.