Tenkara: Fly Fishing Can Be Simple

Tenkara One
An angler fishes a small creek using a Tenkara rod. Photo by Tenkara USA.

What if I told you that fly fishing is actually one of the simplest activities around? If you’re an experienced fly fisherman you may be laughing and dismissing me right now. In fact, you might be thinking back to all of the frustrating moments you had when you were learning how to fly fish, or remembering all of the lessons you took simply to learn how to cast. And if you’re someone who always thought fly fishing would be fun but were intimidated because it looked too difficult, I either just grabbed your attention or you might just think I’m lying.

Perhaps I should rephrase that first sentence: Fly fishing can be one of the simplest activities around.

In 2007, I had been fly fishing for nearly 12 years. Yet, even with more than a decade of experience, I can’t say that I was great at it. After attending a few clinics, I learned to cast fairly well and even got good enough to catch a few fish. But fly fishing continued to strike me as an overly complex endeavor. The equipment was complicated, it took a long time to rig the line, my vest — loaded with gear — weighed a ton and there was always a lot of line that could get tangled if I wasn’t extremely focused.

Tenkara Two
A young woman fishes with a Tenkara fly rod on a Colorado stream. The simple setup includes a 12-foot rod, a fixed line, tippet and a fly. No reel is required. Photo by Tenkara USA.

In that same year, I was getting ready to visit Japan for the first time. Despite the vast amount of equipment that I needed to carry with me on the flight, I knew that I wanted to bring my fishing gear and fly fish while I was there. To prepare, I started researching where I could fish. I soon realized that Japan was full of prime fishing waters, and that I could fly fish almost anywhere. Intrigued, I began looking deeper into Japan’s fly-fishing history. That’s when I discovered that the Japanese had their own method of fly fishing that they called “tenkara.” Unlike fly fishing here in the United States, tenkara was simple. It involved a telescopic rod, a fixed length of line attached to the rod tip, a tippet and a fly. That was it.

Needless to say, I returned home from that trip with a tenkara rod in my pack, and I started taking it with me on all of my mountain adventures. I didn’t take long for me to realize that the tenkara rod was the ideal companion for all of my backpacking trips. It was compact, fun to use and, best of all, it was so simple. After dedicating 12 years to learning the many intricacies of traditional fly angling, it was a revelation to strip everything down to this basic form.

Photo by Tenkara USA.
Photo by Tenkara USA.

At first glance, many people compare tenkara to a glorified version of cane-pole fishing. And, they are fairly accurate with that description. I grew up fishing with a cane pole, and I enjoyed it tremendously. However, using artificial flies, instead of bait, and the elegance involved with casting a fly rod always attracted me. So, when I discovered tenkara it was clear that this was the perfect marriage: the simplicity of using a good ole’ cane pole combined with the art of fly fishing.

In 2009, I established my company, Tenkara USA, and became the first person to introduce this style of fly fishing outside of Japan. I first visited Colorado in 2010, when a well known fly-fishing writer invited me here to teach him about tenkara. We fished the St. Vrain and a variety of other small rivers and streams. Then we went fly fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park, where I caught my first cutthroat trout on the tenkara rods that I had developed. After this amazing experience, I realized that Colorado was the “tenkara-perfect” state, and I moved the company to Boulder in 2012.

So, if you’re considering fly fishing for the first time, but are hesitating because you think it’s too complicated, consider giving tenkara a try. A great opportunity to learn more about Tenkara fly fishing will be during the 4th annual Tenkara Summit, which will be held in Boulder on Sept. 27.

This story was written by Daniel Galhardo. Galhardo is the founder of Tenkara USA based in Boulder.

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