Casting the line with a Tenkara rod is in many ways a paradox. Some people can cast a line the length of the rod fairly well after only a few casts. Other people struggle to cast the line and have the line extend more than one meter beyond the end of the rod. The paradox is the harder they try to cast the line the less success they have.
This summer will be my sixth year Tenkara fishing. I am completely self-taught. Learning on my own how to cast by watching YouTube videos, trying to duplicate their casting motion and timing, reading what others have written about proper casting, and by trying to analyze what I think happens during my casting, and what should happen. What works and what does not work.
Some of my conclusions may help you improve your casting skills. I believe you can cast a short line fairly well with poor casting technique. But you can only cast a longer line by using proper casting technique. I recommend that as soon as you can cast a short line fairly well, that you spend a few minutes, 15 to 30 minutes, trying to cast a long line, that is a line that is 1 to 2 meters longer than the rod. I believe it will reveal weaknesses in your casting technique, and it will help you to develop sensitivity to the rod loading caused by the line, which will improve the timing during your cast. And it will help prevent you from learning poor casting technique that will be difficult to unlearn. I found that if I practiced casting a long line for a few minutes, then immediately switched back to casting a shorter line, that my casting technique of the shorter line had improved.
Look at the bottom diagram on the below webpage titled テンカララインの軌道, Tenkara Line Trajectory. (Sorry but I am not aware of any similar diagram with English text) There are 8 steps in the basic overhead cast.
Step 1 is the start of the back cast. Note how the rod tip is loaded or flexed forward, as the line is dragged from the water. The rebound of that flex will help throw the line back and up at about 45˚. Stop at about 12:00 then pause for a moment. That is where the timing comes in. You pause at 12:00 to allow time for the rearward moving line to extend. Ideally you want to learn to sense when the rod tip has flexed rearward to it’s maximum amount of flex, and start your forward cast just an instant sooner. That way the rod tip will add the most energy into the line during the forward cast. It takes a lot of practice to get this timing perfect. Stopping the back cast at 12:00 position will also position the rod to put more energy into the forward cast. Note that in Steps 1 and 2 the text mentions 12:00 ( １２時).
While the rod tip is flexed rearward you start the forward cast. It might help if you try side casting, with the rod tipped over just enough, about 45˚, where you can see the line position and the rod tip position. Don’t start the forward cast to hard or fast. I think if you do you will find the line tends to belly down toward the ground.
During Step 3 your goal is to move the rod forward at the right speed to be ahead of the rod tip rebounding forward. At Step 4 you stop the forward cast at 2:00 (２時). That is where the rebound of the rod tip adds its energy into throwing the line forward. The rod tip will have added it's full energy into the line when it has flexed forward as illustrated in Steps 4 and 5.
The rebound of the rod tip rearward at Step 6, will tend to draw the line back, but this whipping action will help the line to continue to uncurl, and continue to extend the line forward. In Step 7, if you’re not holding the rod too tightly the rod tip movement will quickly dampen out, and not oscillate too much, as the line continues to uncurl and lie out straight and ideally gently land the fly on the water at Step 8. Some people raise the rod tip just slightly just before the fly lands.
To long an explanation I know. But maybe that will help you understand the fundamentals of casting, or at least my theory of what happens.
Try to understand what the diagram is trying to illustrate. But when casting don't think about the steps too much. I find it helpful when casting to replay in my mind a video showing proper casting. Keep the principle steps in the back of your mind, and the video replay in the front of your thoughts. Let your subconscious mind figure out the mechanics from an understanding of the fundamental casting principles.
The narration is in Japanese, but the video quality is good, and you can see the line fairly well. The graphics put on top of the video shows the casting angle of the rod you should be aiming to duplicate. The narration is in Japanese. If a picture is worth a thousand words then a moving picture is worth a million words.
The video is an introduction to Tenkara, and how to get started Tenkara fishing. You can skip the first 2 minutes that just point out you need Rod, Line, Tippet aka Leader and a fly. The casting instruction is only the last 2 minutes of the video.
The instructor in the video is Katayama Etsuji-san ( 片山悦司さん). He is a Field Tester for Daiwa, and it is my understanding that he develops the Level Line Tenkara rods for Daiwa. The Tenkara tackle set up he recommends is shown in the first half of the video at about 53 seconds. He recommends a 3 to 4 meter rod. Connected to a level line length 1.5 meters longer than the length of the rod, + about 1.8 meters of tippet. That tippet length is a little long for my taste, I would recommend a tippet of only 1 m. This video is also an example of a recommendation to start with a line that is considerably longer than the rod.
The section of interest starts at 2:00. Titled 投げ方, throwing or How-to throw (the line).
Notice that he holds the rod at the top of the grip, the same hold that is shown on the Honda diagram, but that is his style. Some people prefer it. Others prefer to hold the grip in the middle or at the butt end of the grip. Try it or just hold the rod the way you prefer. However, that hold position does help control the correct casting arc. The important thing is to observe the angle of his cast. Where he stops the rod on the back cast and the forward cast. If you watch closely you can see the slight pause at the end of the back cast before starting the forward cast. You might also notice the slight wiggle of the rod during the pause period of the back cast, which is caused by the rod tip flexing rearward and the line loading the rod tip.
Also observe the rod angles to avoid. Not to far back, not to far forward. Stop about straight up at 12:00 for the back cast or only slightly past that position. Stop at about 2:00 to 2:30 on the forward cast. If you stop to low the line is thrown toward the water. Try to notice the total time of the cast. The pause. And the speed he moves the rod. He stops the back cast at a point just a little bit past vertical. Which is ok for longer lines. Not needed for shorter lines.
Each combination of rod and line will require a little bit different timing. Depending on whether the rod is soft or stiff, a 7:3, 6:4 or 5:5 rod, weight and length of the line, etc. Another video I find useful to think about when casting is this 10-second video of Masami Sakakibara (榊原正巳) casting, aka Tenkara no Oni or just Oni (鬼). Notice how relaxed and unhurried his casting motion is. You might have to over emphasize the pause time at the end of the back cast while learning. Just start the forward cast before the line has time to start falling to the ground.
Why I believe practice casting a longer line will improve your casting technique.It wasn’t until my third summer Tenkara fishing that I first tried casting a 5 and then a 6-meter line. I wasn’t very good at first casting a line that long. But I found that if I practiced casting these longer lines for 30 minutes, then switched back to casting a line that was only the length of the rod or .5 m to 1m longer than the rod my casting of the shorter line had improved. Practicing with the longer line slowed down my cast, taught me to improve my pause time at the end of the back cast, and more importantly it helped me to begin to sense the rod tip flexing rearward due to the heavier line loading the rod tip by tugging on rod tip as the line moved rearward.
It’s a little bit like learning to balance and ride a bicycle. At first you’re not sensitive to losing your balance, and you fall over. But over time you become more alert to sensing you are going off balance, and you correct it sooner. Pretty soon you have learned to keep your balance and you no longer fall over. Yet consciously you are not aware of it or how you do it. It’s the same thing with casting. You begin to sense the line loading the rod. After some time practicing with the longer line you begin to sense this and to sense it earlier. And you will begin to sense the line loading the rod or the rod flex when using a shorter lighter line with out really being conscious of it.
I recommend you try the following: Connect a line that is about 1.5 m longer than the rod with 1m of tippet. Tie a short piece of yarn to the end of the tippet. Start with the line laid out straight on the ground and just do the back cast. Letting the line fall to the ground. Try to notice the line tugging on the rod tip at the end of the back cast or the rod tip flexing rearward.
Then turn around and do the back cast in the opposite direction. After doing that a few times, start adding the forward cast after a short pause at the end of the back cast. Experiment with the speed of the casting stroke. Try a fast abrupt start to the casting stroke. Then try it where you start the casting stroke a little slower before increasing the speed of the rod motion to the stop position.
Experiment with starting slow then increase the speed only a moderate amount, then by increasing the speed a lot. I think you will find if you accelerate the rod motion too fast the line will tend to drop down in the middle toward the ground. But when your increase in rod speed is a little slower the line will not belly down in the middle, it will curl out straight and lie out farther, extending how far you cast the line. I have found when fishing if I try too hard to cast the line farther, my cast is poor. I have to remind myself to relax my cast, slow down, and let the flex in the rod throw the line.
Generally when casting you will pause at the end of the back cast long enough for the line to nearly fully extend rearward and upward before starting the forward cast. However, when casting an extremely long line or after your casting skill has improved your forward cast will start when most of the line is still moving rearward. This next video shows Masami Sakakibara casting an 11m tapered salt water line. By careful observation you will see the forward cast starts when the end of the line is still forward of where he is standing and still moving rearward. That is easiest to see at about 1:15 into the video. Also notice that his casting stroke is still very relaxed, and he cast by pivoting his arm from the shoulder. His elbow height above ground is rising and falling. However, with shorter lines it’s ok to pivot the arm motion more from the elbow combined with a slight wrist motion.
I can cast a 7m line ok with a 4m rod. I find it beyond my skill to cast a 10m line. It takes a long time to develop the skill to cast a line that long. I never fish with lines that long. Preferring, most of the time, to fish with a line that is at most 1.5 m longer than the rod. I believe practice casting longer lines has improved my casting technique. I recommend you try it once in a while. It doesn’t matter if in the beginning you cannot cast a 5m or 6 m line very well. Try it for a few minutes, and then switch back to a shorter line. Some people disagree with my theory that this is a useful exercise.
However, Matt Sment from Badger Tenkara wrote an interesting post about the Oni School in Utah last summer. Where Oni demonstrated casting a 10m line with a 3.6m-rod. Writing – that on the water Oni fishes with more practical line lengths of 4m to 5m. But explaining that training to cast long lines serves as excellent training for casting and learning to control more normal lengths of lines in the range of 3-5 meters. Here’s the link to Matt’s post.
I wouldn’t recommend you increase the length of lines you fish with in large steps. Only increase your line length little by little. What you feel comfortable with. Making a big jump in line length is just for practice that may improve your casting technique.
In many places I have read that when learning to Tenkara fish the priorities are; first you learn to cast, and then learn to cast accurately to a small point. One game to improve your accuracy is casting to a small bowl of water as demonstrated in this video.
In the video he is casting with a 4.1m rod, with a 5m line + 1.5m tippet.
Adam at Tenkara-Fisher made an excellent post - a translation from 桑原 玄辰 Gentatsu Kuwahara’s book,毛バリ釣りの楽しみ方、How to Enjoy Fly(kebari) Fishing. Casting Practice for Accuracy.
Gentatsu Kuwahara sets a high standard. First you learn to hit the pan of water with 50% success rate. Then you learn to hit the pan of water without splashing water out of the pan. You might want to try this with the length of line you normally fish with. It takes a lot of practice to get to the beginner level. I don’t yet meet his standard. Learning to land the fly gently helps trigger the fish to hit the fly, not spook the fish to hide.
Maybe my conclusions about casting are correct or maybe not. But this is the way I think about casting. Oleg had read a couple of my forum post on this topic and found it matched his experience, and asked me to write something for his blog. I hope you find this useful in improving your casting technique.