Douglas C Hall: My Tenkara Discovery.The Truth Behind The Lies.

tenkara angler Doulas C Hall
If you are looking forward to reading another author bleat on about the simplicity, lightness, effectiveness and path to enlightenment that was their discovery of tenkara then read no further. I first heard of tenkara around 2010 and really never gave it much more than a glance at that stage. I’ve been fly fishing for over twenty years and there’s plenty still to learn however a thirst for knowledge kept me coming back to the subject of tenkara. I first experimented with fixed line fly fishing in summer 2011 when I set myself a challenge of finding out just how cheaply you could cast a fly and catch a trout, as it turned out tenkara was a good foundation to this experiment. During this experiment i fished a fixed line for the first time and I learned to furl my own line using nothing more than a length of monofilament and my fingers. I enjoyed this little introduction to fixed line fly fishing and it gave me just enough of a push to start learning more about tenkara.
sakasa kebari
So, in the later months of 2011 I started to research tenkara in an attempt to learn as much as I could about it before deciding if I wanted to dedicate some of my fishing time to it. As I trawled the web in search of information I came across the same or similar articles almost everywhere I looked. Everyone was saying how simple, lightweight, packable, effective and inexpensive tenkara was and how it had totally transformed there fly fishing. I’ll be honest with you right here and now, I wasn’t convinced. I quickly became tired of reading the endless comparisons between tenkara and what has been dubbed “Western Fly Fishing” when what I actually wanted to learn about was tenkara, not why it was so much better than “WFF”. After becoming frustrated by the anti WFF marketing tactics used to promote tenkara in the west I switched off for a couple of months.

In early 2012 while browsing youtube I came across a tenkara video which once again put the thought into my mind that it might be enjoyable to learn more. this time I did my best to stay away from the What is or isn’t Tenkara & Tenkara vs. WFF debates and only seek information about the basic techniques and flies used in this style of fixed line fly fishing. I managed to learn fairly quickly and although I wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge I was beginning to see past the over zealous marketing and “my rods better than your rod” articles.

furled tenkara line
A short while after I joined the UK Tenkara Forum I purchased my first tenkara rod and shortly after that I had my first session with a couple of friends from the forum. I found the members of this forum to be very helpful and more grounded than some. In the UK/European tenkara scene anglers are more willing to look at tenkara as an addition to the fly fishing armoury rather than a be all and end all, chuck away your reel and forget what you’ve been doing for the last twenty years sort of thing. Of course there are some who are very passionate about tenkara to the point where they haven’t touched a fly reel since they discovered it and that’s perfectly OK too.Something that fascinated me from the start was the concept of fishing only one fly, I couldn’t imaging only ever tying one fly so I began to experiment and extend the parametres of the “One Fly” approach to tenkara by tying many variations of one fly, the Sakasa Kebari. I have found that it’s both possible and and enjoyable to blend matching the hatch with the one fly approach by tying semi imitative sakasa kebari. I have written an article about this previously for Tenkara Times that can be found here.
Another fascination I have is experimenting with hand furled lines, I have been experimenting with furled lines since before I took up tenkara and trying to create the perfect line for my fishing has become a bit of an obsession. My current favourite is a 12’ level furled line made of 4 ply 12lb monofilament, it casts beautifully and feels just about right. I received a furled line from Simon over at UK Tenkara Forum the first time I went tenkara fishing and I much preferred the feel of it over the level line, lines of course are a personal thing and while I like furls others adore level lines. I finish my mono furls with a perfection loop at each end and to this I attach brightly coloured backing line which I use to attach my line to the lillian and also the tippet, it also acts as a perfect sight indicator and with a little gink floats like a cork.
tenkara trout
August 2012 saw my first sessions on the river Almond with my tenkara gear and i was quickly catching trout. I’ve tried to stick fairly rigidly to the tenkara techniques used by Japanese anglers in my early explorations into tenkara. I believe it’s better to learn the basics before reinventing the wheel., not that I intend to reinvent anything. I found tenkara to be a very enjoyable way to fish and I’ve taken trout up to 17”, in fact my biggest trout this season from my local river was taken on a Sakasa kebari Midge I tied, this was the first tenkara fly I tied and for the first few sessions it was the only fly I fished. I have since caught both trout and grayling using my tenkara gear however to catch the grayling I used a killer bug and not my sakasa kebari. For whatever reason I haven’t yet been able to catch a grayling on a sakasa kebari, I’m sure I will in the future. I’ve had a few excellent days fishing tenkara and it’s something I will enjoy learning more and more about in the future.
Hey, wait a minute! what about all that “Truth Behind The Lies” stuff ?.

As I’ve hinted towards in this article I was almost turned off tenkara completely by what I see as negative WFF bashing in the promotion of tenkara in the west. This not only diminishes tenkara but also fly fishing as a whole. Lies might be a little strong a word to use but when you use the word truth what other word is there to describe these  inaccuracies. I have always been a minimalist fly fisher, I love to fish small streams that involve scrambling through the overgrown woodlands of Scotland (sometimes on all fours) in search of pristine pools that hold perfect trout. I’ve never carried more than is necessary to enjoy my day fishing and I suppose it’s for this reason that many of the claims made by tenkara promoters and enthusiasts annoy me. 

Here are just a few:

Tenkara is cheaper than WFF - This statement is absolutely wrong, I can buy a full fly fishing outfit for  £30, I cannot even buy a tenkara rod for that.

Tenkara is better for backpacking - The only additional piece of equipment needed for WFF is a reel, modern graphite reels weigh very little and a 7pc fly rod takes up no more space than a tenkara rod.

Tenkara is more effective - This I would say depends who is holding the rod, I have found my catch rate drop since I started tenkara but I’m sure as I progress it will come into line.

Tenkara is easier to learn - Again, this is nonsense, I would say that there is far more to learn in WFF than tenkara but Czech nymphing is as easy for a novice to learn as basic tenkara, maybe even easier.

Tenkara presentation is more delicate - This depends again partly on the angler and partly the technique being used, some techniques used in WFF are just as delicate as tenkara.

With tenkara you can fish places you can’t with WFF - I am yet to find a single situation where this is true, in fact, I find quite the opposite.

What I have discovered about tenkara is that it is absolutely great fun, i’ve also discovered that much of what is said about tenkara is inaccurate to say the least, both in it’s promotion and it’s opposition. I’m sure that I will continue to fish tenkara and other fixed line fly fishing methods as well as everything else. My tenkara discovery has perhaps been a little bumpy and there’s plenty about it that still gets on my nerves but I really do enjoy this style of fly fishing and I can only see myself doing more of it in the future.

Tight Lines!!