Path to Tenkara
: A few months ago, I learned of a variation on fly fishing called Tenkara. The method was developed in Japan as a way to delicately present small flies to finicky trout, and is quite a bit simpler than the gear, technique, and specialty intensive sport western fly fishing has become. From the site of Tenkara USA:
"Originally done with bamboo rods, tenkara has evolved and modern tenkara is known for using sophisticated technology to produce extremelly ligh and strong rods. The rods are made with high-grade carbon-fiber, and are telescopic, making tenkara rods the most portable yet pure style of fly-fishing. The rods' extended length (normally 12ft) and portability (they close down to 20 inches, with all pieces fitting inside the handle) makes them ideal for small-stream angling and backpacking. Traditional tenkara lines are furled, and, like in western fly-fishing, are necessary for casting the weightless flies forward." Tenkara USA
Most of the information I encountered on Tenkara portrays it as a very elegant fishing method perfect for small streams and tiny flies. However, it struck me as a perfect fit for one of my favorite forms of fishing, better known as Hill Country Perch Jerkin'. (Texans refer to all Sunfish as perch) Most of the rivers north and west of San Antonio are loaded with thousands of beautiful sunfish and small bass of various species, and they all eagerly eat flies.
First take on the gear
: Forever the professional-crastinator, I waited until last Monday to order my rod. It arrived last Thursday and in addition to being pleased with a very quick shipment, I was extremely impressed with the rod and accompaniments. The rod tube (about 22" long and no thicker than a large carrot) is actually carbon fiber itself, with aluminum caps at both ends with rubber bumpers. One end unscrews so you can slide the socked rod out. The rod sock closes via velcro rather than the cord or ribbon found on typical fly rods and I think this is a marvelous idea. The rod itself has a nicely made plug preventing the skinny sections from sliding out until you want them too. I will say that the Yamame model rod really matches its description on their website: actually quite stiff, and with a cork grip well suited to those with large hands. The way one connects the line to the rod might seem a bit iffy, but it worked great for me and 65 fish, and I expect it to continue to do so.
Fishing the rod
: Its nice to walk down to the river carrying only a 20" 3 oz rod, eliminating the need to thread it through the trees and brush. I got into the river and found a nice spot to rig up. I extended the rod sections, attached the line (quite like a 10'6" furled leader) to the rod tip, added 5x tippet, tied on a size 10 wet/streamer creation, and was ready to go. It occurred to me that since I only needed the one hand for this fishing style, this would be a fine time to use the other for a cold beer. Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Grill & Brew - Ratebeer
This became problematic due to the fact that I caught about 8 fish before I could finish off that beer- a great problem to have.
It took a little while to get the casting down well, but within an hour I was putting the fly in between cypress roots fairly easily, and even throwing sidearm under branches. To be honest, accuracy actually came easier than I would have expected from a 12' rod. After the first 20 fish, I decided to try a different fly for grins, and tied on a black foam ant, and quickly was wondering what fly to switch to for my 3rd set of 20 fish. Over the course of the day I also fished some heavier streamers (1/8" bead chain eyes) and hoppers and they all cast well. I caught 4+ species of sunfish, some small bass, and even the elusive Rio Grande Perch.
: I'll point out a few things I hadn't read elsewhere that I learned Saturday.
No guides on a rod is a wonderful thing:
when you're catching that many fish, and getting your line wrapped around your rod in the process of releasing them, its SO much easier to unwrap it with rod wiggles when there's no guides in the way.
Locally we use the term "sailfish" to describe the ones small enough to go flying on a hookset, or to be easily lifted out of the water with a 5wt or lighter fly rod. I found myself getting into a rythym of casting over my right shoulder, setting the hook by lifting the rod and swinging the rod so that the leader came right to my left hand just above the fish. You grab the fly, point the eye down to drop the fish off it, and repeat the process.
I'm one to stick the rod under my right armpit when I need both hands to bend over to free a hooked fish. The problem with this is that a 12' rod sticks out much further than a 9' rod does, and tends to contact the bottom of the river. I didn't break or damage the tip of my rod, but its something to be mindful of for all the "armpit releasers" out there.
Tenkara is a marvelous way to spend an afternoon catching fish.I would heartily recommend anyone interested in a simpler type of fishing give Tenkara a try. Anytime you would otherwise take a 3wt or lighter rod and have room overhead to cast a 12' rod, you'll have more fun using Tenkara.