Tenkara and Lite Line Fly Fishing

Light Line Fly Fishing is what interested me the most in fishing and ultimately lead me to tenkara. Why would I want to write a fly fishing piece on a tenkara site?

Because the two go hand in hand.

Tenkara is fly fishing, but it is different.

Lite line fly fishing, you can do everything you can do with a tenkara rod. I can see some of you immediately object and that's ok but hear me out, you can reach, just not as well, you can sasoi, just not as well but you cannot shoot a fly in a tunnel or let a big fish run, the obvious things, like you can with a fly rod.

Both have merit yet this is not about which one is better, this is about the small streams you fish and it is a rare look where both disciplines live in harmony.

Since day one for me, in 2009, fly fishing and tenkara have lived in unison. I was introduced to tenkara by an American company that said, "sell your fly rod and get into tenkara!"

Hell no, they got it wrong that day and never recovered. I ended up working for that company and it was a great experience. I always advised the group that fly fishing and tenkara were friends, brothers if you will and hand in hand they should exist. I advised the company NOT to engage with fly fisher people negatively and for the most part, bridges were mended instead of being burned, I'm proud of my association with them but that's water under the bridge, let me explain.

I didn't trust anyone outside of Japan to teach me anything about tenkara. I am capable of critical thinking on my own, I've always learned to go to the source and study, trusting my look at from a balanced standpoint. If I don't like something, I don't give it time, I don't engage or debate, that's far too much energy spent on the wrong thing.

So I decided to go to Japan and find out about tenkara on my own. I went in 2013, I was scheduled to go before but the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami prevented me from visiting the country while it was in duress. I continued to work with the Japanese and I visited my friend Satoshi Miwa, a humble fly fisher that wasn't interested in doing tenkara but he was quite helpful in my study of it. I had been introduced to the works of Yuzo Sebata and Kazuya Shimoda, expert tenkara fishers experienced with fly fishing. I had this idea in my mind that the Japanese loved fly fishing like we do in the West yet tenkara, born in Japan was Japan's contribution to the World of Fly Fishing. I had formed this opinion while reading old tenkara books, watching videos from Japanese home pages and as I wrote above, in my writings, detailed how tenkara is "Japanese style fly fishing" not in the sense that it is a discipline that should substituted for fly fishing but is an adjunct to it.

I had to learn tenkara, not a blend of fly fishing and tenkara or tenkara with a fly fisher's spin (pun intended) so I just quit fly fishing for more than a decade and dove right in and surrounded myself with the best tenkara fishers, media and friends that I could.

I feel like I did a good job.

Now I have returned to fly fishing while still retaining the freedom to choose what I want to do, the way that I want to fish. 

Many fly fisher people are not interested in tenkara and that's ok. I would say that they are ignorant, but it just isn't true. Fly fishing is pretty complete as it is yet they do not know how to make the fly dance as a tenkara fisher can.

So I show them and more times than not, I've introduced someone new to tenkara.

If you have been following along, genryu is the headwaters, keiryu is mountain stream fishing and honryu is mainstream fishing. All three can be done with a tenkara rod and or a fly rod. The term keiryu is simply, mountain stream fishing whereas genryu is a specialized area focused on the headwaters of the stream and honryu is the mainstream or river. A tenkara rod works best for keiryu and genryu and we can make it work for honryu. A specialized fly rod designed for each area works very well or a 7' - 8" 1-weight will work well for genryu and keiryu, for rivers, a slightly longer rod really works well. For honryu, tenkara rods are designed to work but there is a compromise in there somewhere whereas with a fly rod, they are much better suited.

You can do everything with a fly rod that a tenkara rod can do but not the other way around.

Yes, of course, there are exceptions but that's not where this article will focus on.

Prior to 2009, my specialty was 1-weight fly rods. 

If I were to suggest a fly rod to someone new to fly fishing, I would tell them what I've been telling many of you who I have helped into fly fishing, get a 9' 5-weight and go film yourself casting in the front lawn, watch videos and befriend a fly fisher and go to the river with them. A 5-weight line is like rope to those of us who fish level lines. That's an average line weight and as far as the rod length goes, that's a majority of the rod lengths as well. You can use that rod almost everywhere, light salt water, float tubing, rivers, streams, it works. If you continue on as the years go, I think you may end up like me with a 7' - 8' 1-weight. 


The 1-weight is a light line specialty rod that has been accepted as a specialty. It's not a proprietary line weight such as a 0, 00 or even the 000-weight rod. One company went in that direction and as far as a capable rod, they are however, you are locked into THAT company and what they offer. Many companies offer a 1-weight and it is by far, the lightest and most produced configuration of the industry. You could make the same argument for say a 2-weight or even a 3-weight but those rods are NOT the lightest line weight somewhat readily available whereas the 1-weight line, which is actually what this is about is produced by several fly line companies and has stood the test of time.

I know many of you are waiting for Euro-nymphing to be mentioned, here it is. Euro-nymphing is a conglomeration of techniques, a specialty of subspecialties. It is a frankenfishing, a conglomeration of techniques type genre and without giving a class on Euronymping, I am going to center my thoughts here on conventional (yet specialized) fly fishing without going in a direction of opinion. Euro nymphing is popular. So are bad politicians and that's enough on that topic.

I've seen 1-weight fly rods range from 5'6" to 9'. I've used 1-weight rods in those lengths and have come to the conclusion that a rod of 7'6" to 8' is the sweet spot. It will do the most and is the configuration that I choose in order to maximize what I want out of a 1-weight. On the topic of length, a short fly rod will do almost everything a long rod will except manipulate a line once cast. The short length degrades the ability to mend line in a stealthy manner and in addition, as the length of the rod goes shorter, from my experience, in order to make that short rod (5'6" to 6'6") I have to go up in line weight in order to get the performance I desire from that length fly rod. 

I have a whole other subspecialty on short fly rods that I could draw from but what I'm trying to do here is to divorce the tenkara specialty person from a "tenkara only" outlook and marry him or her to the idea of a broader sense of lite line fly fishing that keiryu is.

At one point in my history of fishing 1-weights, I hunted big fish. I'm not proud of that time, I did learn a lot about catching but it took me away from why I enjoy fishing. I found that it addictive and once I began to zero in on big fish, that's all I wanted and that's not the reason why I enjoy fly fishing.

My project here is not to teach you but to share in what I do.

My experience with lite line fly fishing is that it is not un-common. Japanese fishers enjoy fly fishing more than tenkara. In Japan, tenkara is not popular like fly fishing or conventional tackle configurations with spin and bait cast rods made for keiryu. As I wrote above, on my first trip to Japan, I visited with a fly-fishing friend who toured the different watersheds in the central alps. We did a trip based on his small stream fly fishing, yet I fished side by side and we caught just about the same amount and type of fish. Miwa san wrote an article on our trip, "American Tenkara Fisher, Japanese Fly Fisher" and described his experience fishing with me.

So, my experience is to suggest that 9' 5-weight to you. It will be easy to cast and to learn the different techniques in fly fishing but if you want a rod that lives in the same keiryu environment as does tenkara, I suggest a 8' 1-weight. It may take you some time to get there but once you do, we can talk.

Take care and enjoy fishing your way.

Interview with Daisuke Tsuruta

Mr. Tsuruta, Welcome to Tenkara Fisher. I have been making web sites on small stream fishing since 1997. I started out as a fly fisher and in 2009, while I was searching for a taper to make a split cane fixed line rod, I was introduced to Daniel Galhardo and bought my first tenkara rod from him. I have known Yoshikazu Fujioka since 1997 but I didn’t understand what tenkara was at that time. I have been doing tenkara only since I got my first rod and I’ve been to Japan to fish with my friends there. Many of them are experts and specialists in the type of tenkara and fly fishing. I love tenkara. Maybe almost as much as Ishigaki sensei, maybe not, I don’t know. But I have asked you to be a part of our collection of interviews because of your interests.

I write the interviews in whole; I write it after thinking of what a good interview should be and I suggest that you read what I send you first, then help me make it “flow” by doing your part.
Thank you so much for joining me.

It’s time to begin.

Mr. Tsuruta, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How old are you, when did you start fishing and what is your favorite kind of fishing?

Daisuke Tsuruta: 1975年生まれの48歳です。8歳の時に初めて釣りをしました。初めての釣りは近所の川でのフナ釣りです。日本ではフナ釣りに始まり、フナ釣りに終わると言われています。年老いたらまたフナ釣りを始めると思います。子供の頃から魚が好きで、学生時代、名古屋大学ではアマゴに関する研究をしていました。その研究の合間にテレビで瀬畑さんのテンカラを拝見したのがテンカラを知ったきっかけで、すぐにテンカラ竿を買いに釣り具屋に行ったことを覚えています。私のテンカラの原点は瀬畑さんですね。そこからテンカラを始めて今年で25年目です。


I am 48 years old, born in 1975, and I fished for the first time when I was eight years old. My first fishing experience was crucian carp fishing in a nearby river. It is said that in Japan, fishing for crucian carp begins and ends with crucian carp fishing. I think I will start crucian carp fishing again when I get old. I have loved fish since I was a child, and when I was a student I did research on amago at Nagoya University. I remember seeing Sehata-san's tenkara on TV during a break in my research, which is how I got to know tenkara, and I immediately went to a fishing tackle shop to buy a tenkara rod. Mr Sehata was the starting point of my tenkara. I started tenkara from there, and this year is my 25th year.

Apart from tenkara, I also like topwater catfish fishing with handmade lures, and I also like black bass fishing with a floater fly-fishing in midsummer. I also like to catch squid from the shore with a lure called 'egi', which is known as 'egging' in Japan.

Adam Trahan: I enjoy tenkara very much. Even after experiencing fly fishing for so long, making bamboo rods and building rods for myself and others, I think I still like tenkara more.

It’s more about fishing than ownership of equipment.

I’ve always said that tenkara is about skill, it isn’t about the equipment.

“What do you think about that?”

Daisuke Tsuruta: 私も同意見です。テンカラの腕は道具の良し悪しではなく、テクニックによるところが大きいと考えています。もちろん、全く張りのない竿だったり、ただの硬い棒のような竿では自在に毛ばりを操ることは難しく、良い釣果をあげることができません。自分の好みにあった竿を見つけることが大事になのではないでしょうか。私の好みのテンカラ竿は少し硬めの張りのある竿で、ピンスポットで狙ったポイントに毛ばりを落とすことができます。

I agree with you.I believe that tenkara fishing skill depends on technique, not on the quality of the equipment.Of course, if the rod has no tension at all, or if it is just a stiff rod, it is difficult to manipulate the fly freely and you will not be able to get good results.I think it is important to find a rod that suits your taste.I prefer tenkara rods that are a little stiffer and taut, so that I can drop the fly on a pinpoint spot.

Adam Trahan: Where I live in Arizona, I am surrounded by desert. Good trout fishing in the mountains is at least a two-hour drive away by fast highway. In our mountains, we can fish for Apache and Gila Trout, Brook, Brown, Tiger and Grayling. We have a diverse cold watser fishery. In our tailwaters, we have large river rainbows. I think I like honryu tenkara best. Genryu tenkara is beautiful and the fish that live there are too but there is nothing like fishing a small stream for the beautiful fish found in a high alpine meadow.

“Can you tell us a little bit about your favorite type of tenkara fishing?”

Daisuke Tsuruta: 私は本流テンカラも源流でのテンカラもどちらも大好きですが、どちらかと言えば源流でのテンカラの方が好みですね。テント泊ではなく、すべて日帰りの源流釣行です。山奥まで行かなくても探せばイワナがむちゃくちゃ沢山釣れる谷はありますよ。一人で釣る時はゆっくり自分のペースで釣り上がり、テンカラを満喫しますし、仲の良い友人と釣りに行く時は自分の釣果よりも彼らに多く釣ってもらうことを心がけています。

I love both honryu tenkara and genryu tenkara, but I prefer genryu tenkara. I don't stay overnight in a tent, but go day-fishing in the headwaters. You don't have to go deep into the mountains to find a valley where you can catch a lot of char. When I fish alone, I take my time and fish at my own pace and enjoy tenkara to the fullest. When I go fishing with my good friends, I try to let them catch as many char as possible.

Adam Trahan: My area is very diverse. In our desert, we have large lakes made by dams. Lots of warm water fishing. Below some dams are cold-water rivers, big big rivers and nice sized trout. In the mountains, we have spring creeks in the alpine environment.

“Can you tell us a little bit about your area where you fish?

Daisuke Tsuruta: 自宅から車で30分から2時間くらいのエリアで釣りをしています。石川県または富山県での釣りがほとんどで、イワナを中心に釣っています。一番近くでは自宅から2kmでヤマメが釣れますし、ブラックバスやナマズも家の近くの池や川で釣れます。イカ釣りも車で30分の場所で釣れるので釣りには恵まれた所に住んでいます。良いでしょ?

I fish in areas between 30 minutes and two hours drive from my home. I mostly fish in Ishikawa or Toyama prefecture, mainly for char. The nearest place I can catch yamame 2 km from my home, and black bass and catfish can also be caught in ponds and rivers close to my home.Squid fishing is also available a 30-minute drive away, so I live in a blessed place for fishing. Nice, isn't it?

Adam Trahan: I sometimes travel with tenkara. Like I said, I traveled to Japan a couple of times but one of my favorite spots to travel and fish, Kauai, Waimea Canyon. It was quite an adventure figuring out the trout there. It is an exotic place to fish, a very rainy jungle place but the day I got to fish, the clouds were hiding, the sun was shining and I got to realize my goal of catching the wild trout there. It’s not an easy place to fish, many things work against the Waimea Canyon fisher.

I don’t carry much.

I’ve been called a minimalist.

I don’t really consider myself a minimalist because I have everything I need. I don’t need much though. I think a lot of stuff takes you away from experiencing the moment outdoors. I don’t have a problem picking out something I like that I may not need but want to take. It's something I do so that I enjoy my fishing.

I have a small bag that has a wooden compartment box, a spool to hold my mainline, a spool of tippet, a nipper and a hemostat. I might have an extra line or a thumb drive that has a lot of tenkara stuff on it for people that I meet that are very interested. All of my different types of tenkara are based on that small bag.

“Please tell us about your tenkara and how you prepare and what you take on the stream?”

Daisuke Tsuruta: 私もそんなに多くの荷物を持って谷へは入りません。テンカラ自体がシンプルな釣りなので、竿2本(1本は予備竿)、2種類のライン、数種類のフライ、ティペット等です。源流釣行や単独釣行の場合は、ヘルメットは必須です。その他、クマ避けの海難救助用ホイッスルも必須です。

I don't go into the valley with that much luggage either. Tenkara itself is simple fishing, so two rods (one is a spare rod), two types of line, several types of flies, tippet, etc. A helmet is essential for headwaters fishing and solo fishing. In addition, a sea rescue whistle to avoid bears is also essential.

Adam Trahan: I have a couple of local zones that I fish in the summer and fall. In the winter, I tend to stay at home and fish the stocked urban ponds. It is a break from having to travel hundreds of miles by car just to get to the fish. Although I would not call this type of fishing “tenkara” I am using all the skills as I would fishing in an alpine stream.

“What do you think of urban ponds and using tenkara gear and tactics?”

Daisuke Tsuruta: 自宅近くには釣り堀はないので、行くことはありません。仮に都市部に住んでいたら、冬の間は釣り堀でテンカラをすると思います。源流テンカラとは違いますが、釣り堀のテンカラも面白そうだと思いますよ。

There are no fishing ponds near my home, so I don't go there. If I lived in a city, I would probably do tenkara at a fishing pond during the winter. It is different from genryu tenkara, but I think tenkara at a fishing pond would be interesting.

Adam Trahan: In the winter, when our streams in the high country are blocked with snow, I sometimes fish the urban ponds, most have a bar or pub very close and fishing takes on a little bit different meaning, it’s more of a social event. Speaking of social events and fishing, social media outside of Japan has been important to the development of tenkara.

This web site, although not part of social media, will be available to link through social media. I met you through social media.

“What do you think of social media and tenkara?”

Daisuke Tsuruta: ソーシャルメディアがあったおかげでアダムとも知り合うことができたし、多くのテンカラ友達ができました。この友達の輪はさらに広がっていくと思います。コロナ禍においても気軽に連絡を取ったり、お互いの近況等、情報共有ができましたのでソーシャルメディアは必要だと思います。

Thanks to social media, I got to know Mr.Adam and made many tenkara friends. I think this circle of friends will continue to grow. I think social media is necessary for the Corona Disaster because we were able to easily contact each other and share information about each other's current situation.

Adam Trahan: In the beginning, I did not know much about tenkara. Yoshikazu Fujioka and I have been friends for a long time online, however, I did not know tenkara then. I knew it was some sort of fixed line fishing yet he and I, back in the 90’s was sharing our love of small stream fly fishing.

That’s where we meet.

But then I learned about tenkara and quit fly fishing for about 15 years to learn tenkara, in the best way that I could by total immersion into it.

I learned that many, if not most expert tenkara fishermen in Japan have done or do fly fishing. I think fly fishing and tenkara are the same type of fishing yet are very different.

“Can you tell us what your view of fly fishing is in relation to tenkara?”

Daisuke Tsuruta: 広い意味で言えばテンカラはフライフィッシングの一種だと思います。しかし流れの緩やかなヨーロッパの河川とは違い、急な流れの多い日本で発達したテンカラは、フライフィッシングとは全く別の釣りと私は考えています。日本の渓流で釣りをするならテンカラの方が釣りやすいので、これから釣りを始める人にはテンカラをおすすめします。私自身、フライフィッシングでブラックバスを釣っていて、フライフィッシングの面白さも理解しているつもりです。テンカラとの共通点も多く、フライフィッシングの技術をテンカラに応用できています。

In a broad sense, tenkara is a type of fly fishing. However, unlike European rivers with their gentle currents, tenkara developed in Japan, where there are many steep currents, and I consider tenkara to be a completely different type of fishing from fly fishing. Tenkara is easier to fish in Japanese mountain streams, so I recommend tenkara to those who are just starting out. I myself catch black bass by fly fishing and I think I understand the fun of fly fishing. There are many similarities with tenkara and I am able to apply my fly-fishing techniques to tenkara.

Adam Trahan: I have researched a lot in tenkara books from Japan. Most of the books include fly fishing (Western type) and I believe both are like brothers but different. I personally believe that the best tenkara fishers are made from fly fishers and that tenkara fishers that become fly fishers will go on to become very good at fly fishing. This of course if that person loves tenkara.

In America, tenkara was started by a company that wanted you to sell your fly-fishing gear to “get into” tenkara. I advised this person that this was not the way to grow tenkara. I told him that for people that learned to fish using a tenkara rod, many of them would go on to learn fly fishing. Things happen for a reason, and he didn’t listen to me but he sold his company and walked away from it. So it does not matter.

I believe the two forms of fishing are both a greater part of a fisher's choice.

The next time I travel to Japan, I am bringing a fly rod. It won’t be the reason I visit but I’m never going to leave my fly rods again.

“Speaking of travel, do you like to travel to fish?”

Daisuke Tsuruta: 釣り旅行は好きですよ。子供が大きくなって私の自由な時間が増えたらまた行きたいと思ってます。車にテンカラ竿からルアーロッド、キャンプ道具まで色々積んで、出掛けた先の状況で臨機応変に釣りを楽しむスタイルです。

I like fishing trips. I would like to go fishing again when my children are older and I have more free time. I load up the car with everything from tenkara rods to lure rods and camping gear, and enjoy fishing as I go, depending on the conditions at the destination.

Adam Trahan: It’s one of my favorite things to do, explore with my tenkara rod. Just like I wrote above, my trip to Kauai was probably my favorite even over Japan as it was filled with adventure, failure and success. Bouz or skunked, blanking or not catching fish is not seen as a failure in my book. It rarely happens but it is a necessary ingredient in the meal of my fishing. It keeps the days that I catch fish tasty. It’s like shio (salt) I don’t want very much on my meals and I won’t eat it alone but used correctly, it makes my fishing very special.

Shioyaki trout! And then Kotsuzaki afterwards is a ritual that is very special too. In America, we have people that will not eat their catch. Strictly catch and release, that is what I practice most but I feel strange if I don’t eat my catch every once in a while.

“Can you tell us how you look at catch and release and do you eat your catch?”

Daisuke Tsuruta: 渓流釣りでは基本的にリリースします。持ち帰るのではなく、写真を撮って記録に残すだけですね。家族からの依頼があった場合だけ数匹持ち帰りますが、もう何年間も持ち帰っていません。「エギング」においては釣ったイカはすべて持ち帰ります。数が多く、資源が枯渇しにくいと考えられることと何よりむっちゃ美味しいからです。家族にも大好評です。


In mountain stream fishing, I basically release the fish. I don't take them home, I just photograph them and record them. I only take a few fish home if my family asks me to, but I haven't taken any home for years. In the case of 'egging' , I take all the squid I catch home with me. This is because there are a lot of squid and it is thought that resources are not easily depleted, and above all because they are extremely tasty. They are also very popular with my family.

The reason for releasing fish in mountain streams is that it makes it difficult to concentrate on fishing. If I want to eat them, I want to take them home fresh and eat them well, so I need a cold storage box or something similar. The more luggage I carry, the less agile I am and I consider it unsuitable for genryu fishing.

Adam Trahan: By the nature of this type of writing, it is a little difficult because I have to imagine what you are going to say. I write it in one piece, send it off and hope for the best when I get it back because I do not change anything after I get it back. This makes me change the subject a little more to keep things interesting and topics separate.

I am finishing the interview at a Subaru dealership. I am waiting for the first service to be done.

My new Subaru Forester is a great car, it is perfect for me to explore the area close or even a thousand miles away, I am able to take my fishing very far without worry.

“How do you do it? Do you travel by car? What kind of car do you have? Or do you take the shinkansen or both?”

Daisuke Tsuruta: 私の家族は皆スバルファンで、妻の車はCROSSTREKです。私も以前はスバルの車を乗っていましたが、現在はスズキのエブリイです。エブリイはminivanなので車体が小さい割には荷物も沢山乗りますし、身長176cmの私でも荷室で足を延ばして寝ることができます。細い道でも走りやすく日本国内での釣り旅ならこの車がベストだと考えています。新幹線や電車では釣りに行きたいと思いません。駅からテンカラのポイントまで遠いことが多くて不便だからです。

My family are all Subaru fans and my wife's car is a CROSSTREK. I used to drive a subaru car, but now I drive a Suzuki Every. The Every is a minivan, so it can carry a lot of luggage for its small size, and even at 176 cm tall, I can sleep with my legs stretched out in the cargo area. It is easy to drive even on narrow roads and I think it is the best car for fishing trips in Japan. I don't want to go fishing by bullet train or train. It is inconvenient because it is often far from the station to the tenkara point.

Adam Trahan: Everyone that I have interviewed has things they do besides fishing. I am 62 y/o and am starting to become an old man. I still ride my bicycle very far and I love to do some hiking but things like my dog and flying radio control gliders, sailplanes are piquing my interest.

“What other things do you like besides tenkara?”

Daisuke Tsuruta: 学生の頃からバイクが好きでホンダのモンキーに乗っています。大学生の時にはバイクにテントやシュラフを積んで2,3週間かけてキャンプツーリングに出掛けたこともありました。当時はテンカラを知らなかったのでもったいないことをしたと思ってます。また、魚を飼うことも好きで熱帯魚等を家で飼っていました。自宅に湧水の池があり、水温は年間を通して常に摂氏19℃もあります。子供のころはその池でグッピー等を飼っていました。現在はテンカラや他の釣りで忙しく、魚は飼っていませんが、将来、大きな水槽でナマズを飼いたいと思ってます。

I have loved motorbikes since I was a student and I ride a Honda Monkey. When I was a university student, I once went on a camping touring trip for a couple of weeks with a tent and a sleeping bag on the bike. I didn't know what tenkara was at that time, so I think it was a waste of time. I also liked keeping fish and kept tropical fish at home. I have a spring-fed pond at home, where the water temperature is always 19 degrees Celsius all year round. I used to keep guppies and other fish in that pond when I was a child. Now I am busy with tenkara and other fishing activities and don't keep fish, but I would like to keep catfish in a big tank in the future.

Adam Trahan: I have been giving the interview subject space to ask me questions about anything they want.

“Please take this opportunity to ask me any questions that you like.”



How many days a year do you fish? For the last few years, I have been busy with work, about 25-30 days a year. I used to fish 200 days a year!

When do you think " This is the best moment!" when you are fishing? For me, it's when there are no other anglers, I can fish at my own pace, there is no wind and I can concentrate on fishing.

Adam Trahan: Like you, I used to fish quite a bit. This year, I think I have fished about twenty days so far. I am about to go fishing for a few days and will probably fish another couple of days before the end of the year so about twenty-five to thirty days. This has not been a good year, I had responsibilities at home and a couple of trips got cancelled due to weather.

On moments; I think my best moments fishing are often when I am walking spot to spot. I am deep in the forest alone or far up a canyon and I get this feeling of how small I am in relation to the earth, the sky. But I feel like I am a part of it all. Sometimes I can hear the wind in the tops of the trees and I start to see the overview of where I am fishing, like if I were a hawk.

I remember moments much more than whole trips. I think it is the moments that are so important.

It is this type of daydreaming while I am fishing that I have my best moments. 

I appreciate you. I like what you do. I was a guest with a group of fishers in Japan that took me fishing. They said it was light genryu fishing, but I felt that they were describing it that way just for me. I think what they called light really wasn’t hard at all.

I understand you do genryu fishing or maybe sawanobori.

“Can you tell us about your adventures doing this?”

Daisuke Tsuruta: 私の源流釣りは、日帰り釣行です。険しい谷や険しくない谷といろんな源流に行ってます。車を降りて30秒で釣りを始められる谷もあれば、崖を降りたり、ダムを渡って入る谷もあります。



二つ目の理由は、むちゃくちゃ沢山釣れるからです。一日の釣行でイワナは70~100匹、その内、“shaku-iwana”(30.5cm over)は、5~10匹は釣れるので、楽しくて仕方ありません。本州で日帰り釣行のテンカラでこれだけ釣れる人は少ないです。何日もかけて山奥まで行けば沢山釣れますが、日帰り釣行だとこんなに釣れないことの方が多いです。


My genryu fishing is a day trip. I go to various headwaters, some steep and some not so steep valleys. Some valleys I can get out of the car and start fishing within 30 seconds, others I enter by descending cliffs or crossing dams.

I fish the headwaters for two reasons.

The first reason is that I know the valleys where no other anglers enter, so I can tenkara slowly at my own pace. I can enjoy tenkara to the fullest by concentrating all my attention on facing the fish without being aware of the presence of other anglers.

The second reason is that I can catch a lot of fish. In one day's fishing, I catch 70 to 100 char, of which 5 to 10 are "shaku-iwana" (over 30.5 cm), so there is no way to avoid having a lot of fun. There are very few people in Honshu who can catch this many fish on a one-day tenkara fishing trip. If you go deep into the mountains for a few days, you can catch a lot of fish, but on a day trip, it's more common to not catch this many.

The most important thing for me in order to catch a lot of fish is the timing of fishing. The timing is different in different valleys. The amount of snowfall in the previous year, the change in temperature from spring to summer, the amount of precipitation, the change in water levels over the last week or so, etc. Hourly water level information can be collected on the internet, and by differentiating these figures twice, the soil moisture content can be estimated, which also gives a fairly accurate idea of how long it will take for the water level to return to its original level after a previous rainfall. I was able to use the mathematics I learnt as a student in Tenkara: if you go to the same valley for 20 years, you can predict the situation to some extent from experience, but it is reassuring to know that you can also predict it by calculation.

Adam Trahan: I am too late to that party. I wish that I knew about it as a young man. This would have been perfect for me to quit hang gliding. I used to fly at an advanced level and I enjoyed it very much.

“Is there anything else in the world of Japanese fishing that you want to do or are going to do?

Daisuke Tsuruta: テンカラでサケ科魚類以外の魚を釣ってみたいです。とりあえずナマズを釣りたいですね。ナマズはルアーやフライフィッシングで釣ったことがあるので、釣ることはできると思います。その他、自分で作ったの“egi”でイカを釣ってみたいです。

I would like to catch non-salmonid fish with tenkara. For a start, I would like to catch catfish. I have caught catfish by lure and fly fishing, so I think I can catch them. I would also like to catch squid with an "egi" that I made myself.

Adam Trahan: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I appreciate what you do and I look forward to meeting you one day in your country.

Daisuke san, please close the interview with anything you would like to say to our readership.

Daisuke Tsuruta: テンカラを通じて多くの友人ができました。いつか海外でもテンカラ釣りをしたいと考えています。海外でも多くのテンカラ友達ができることを願っています。日本に来た時は私がご案内いたします!

I have made many friends through tenkara. I would like to do tenkara abroad one day. I hope to make many tenkara friends abroad. I will guide you when you come to Japan!

Load, Send and Bend; A Look at the Evolution of Tenkara

As an adult that enjoys catching fish, I have used many forms of fishing rods. From casting lures to casting lines, my specialty or chosen practice is fly fishing. As I advance in fly fishing, I study how fishing rods work which leads me to understand how they are built. In my experience, I have spent time with bamboo and composite craftsman learning their craft and ultimately choosing to make bamboo fly rods myself. As I have shared this before, all of this prior to my choosing to understand practice and study tenkara.

Now, as I return to fly fishing after fourteen years, I would like to share a little more of what I’ve learned about the business end and evolution of a tenkara rod.

Is Tenkara fly fishing?

I look at how a rod works, how it is constructed in order to understand each method.

In western fly fishing, the rod is variably loaded and released (casting) which dynamically sends the line and ultimately the fly to its target. The energy, or casting of the rod is transmitted to the line as it runs through guides along the length of the rod. This energy is transferred, dynamically. The variable length of the cast is described by the amount of force applied to the bending potential of the rod. The loading of the rod is released and energy of the bend is sent through the line, the cast length displaying how much force was applied to the rod. The amplitude from the cast and wavelength in the line is variable and dynamic in the potential length of the cast.

Tenkara is fly fishing, Japanese style fly fishing complete in its own form.

With tenkara, the line is attached to the tip of the rod and that connection seamlessly transmits the potential energy from the rod loading into the line. The amplitude and wavelength are essentially fixed by the chosen length of the line.

The technique of casting, imparting action into the rod, has an effect of how well the system transmits the energy to the fly. The results in technique are directly proportional to the understanding of how to balance the application of power through the casting stroke. The timing of casting stroke and the type of stop determines the efficiency of sending the energy to the fly and how the energy is dissipated at the fly.

The bend and resistance or potential energy of the rod is affected by the variations of construction techniques.

The type of material the rod is constructed of and the taper of the rod, thick at the handle, thin at the tip has an effect on the transfer of energy from the rod bend. The material has a speed which the energy of bending resists and wants to return to its resting state.

Carbon fiber cloth is pre-impregnated (pre-peg) with epoxy resin that is rendered stiff by the application of heat. The epoxy in this cloth contributes to the resistance of bending once the epoxy has been catalyzed by heat. The pre-peg composite fabric that modern tenkara rods are made of is often described by the term, modulus. The modulus in relation to the bending and recovery speed of the rod is described numerically. The shape of the cloth once cut and applied to the mandrel, higher modulus number describes a faster return to resting state or speed of elasticity. Carbon fiber cloth with a higher modulus number is denser and more compact with carbon fiber. The shape that the pre-peg cloth is cut into also affects the flex profile of the rod.

In constructing a western fly rod and or a tenkara rod, the material and the taper (how wide at the handle and thin at the tip) will affect the flex profile and the rate of return or speed of the rod. Typically, the faster the rod is, the bend is primarily focused in the tip yet you can create a fast-recovering full flexing rod or a slow recovering tip flexing rod using the variability of materials and taper described.

Joints are part of the rod construction and can be used in the design of the rod Joints affect the bend or flex profile of the rod. Lots of joints, double the material, stiffer and where are those joints placed in relation to the bend affect the speed and flex profile.

Rod design and manufacture consider each element when crafting rods for market, regarding the market, he evolution of a tenkara rod is also affected by the people who practice it.

The evolution of tenkara has a lot to do with how rods perform the way they do.

Born in Japan, tenkara fisherman of old made their own rods from bamboo, the lines from horsehair and the hooks from bent needles. There wasn’t much in the way of descriptions of how the rod performed or even communicated between tenkara fishermen. The method of tenkara was professional in nature and the trade secrets were not shared freely. The results that tenkara fisherman brought to market were much more important. Tenkara rods were the tools of professional fishermen and competition to bring fish to market isolated the descriptions of the tools to of the early tenkara fishermen.

Up until 1960s, rods were made of bamboo. During that time, rod makers offered their craft in small shops in the same villages and cities where the fish were sold. Wazao rod makers or traditional bamboo rod craftsmen made rods available for purchase and use. Making rods took time away from fishing, and fishermen worked with rod makers to produce rods with the desired qualities for their skill in catching fish. Aesthetically pleasing rods that performed well brought the highest prices yet the skill in presenting the fly far outweighed a beautifully crafted rod that was expensive to purchase. Skill was earned through experience and fishing an expensive rod was not the key to making money or feeding your family.

Other more popular forms of fishing rods were produced by larger manufacturing firms. The manufacturing of fishing rods already had progressed, and larger markets were served. Fishing companies such as Sakura was one of the earliest to commercially popularize tenkara to a broader audience. Technology from other forms of fishing rods were used in the production of tenkara rods and in the 1970’s the first composite (fiberglass and carbon graphite) tenkara rods were being produced and sold.

The largest companies that produce rods marketed their products by several means. Tenkara rod manufacture being a smaller portion of the larger market still grew with the advance of better materials and construction. Early tenkara rods were one piece bamboo or wood, the rods being long and the tips of the rods being somewhat fragile, those early rods were left near where the fisherman lived in the mountain streams where they fished.

As rods began to be manufactured in cities far from the streams they were used on, multi piece rods were produced for ease of travel. Some of the first multi piece rods being produced were called “in stick” as the smaller sections were stored inside the larger sections. In-stick configuration progressed to the telescoping or nesting rods as this configuration is far more efficient and compact.

Japanese fishing rod manufacturers marketed their goods by describing the performance and by the aesthetics of the rod. Books on tenkara were written, magazines included tenkara and there were films produced by production companies all which supported the small tenkara communities scattered across Japan. Analyzing what was being sold was part of production and the tenkara rod market was carried along by the broader market of other types of fishing rods but the manufacturing and performance qualities was shared with the tenkara rod manufacture and marketing.

Which brings us to modern times.

It is not widely known that Yuzo Sebata introduced tenkara to America in 1990. However, at that time, in Japan, rods were described by “tone” and by flex profile. A hard tone rod typically had a 7:3 profile. The business of tenkara was already established and reported on thoroughly. In 2009, tenkara was commercially introduced outside of Japan by the Internet and by the information stream from an American company. Marketing tenkara was outside of Japan for the first time and the early marketing was somewhat ackward and wandering as the allure of tenkara was accepted by a large consumer base for many reasons.

Beyond 2009 and the "Outside of Japanese Tenkara Influence" 

During this time, in America, tenkara was supported by one major rod seller. The information coming from this single company was honest and true however the growth of the community and the increased availablity of tenkara equipment from Japan and subsequent growth of the market caused growing pains and in-fighting within our community.

The method of tenkara was reported on and spread by many people that had not been to Japan. The research material was there however the language barrier still very significant and the cost and difficulty in importing Japanese products was not supported broadly. Tenkara, the method was readily adapted by many enthusiasts of simple fly fishing. The method was easy and lent itself to other types of fishing. 

The Japanese term, gyakuyunyu or to re-import became evident as tenkara began to grow in popularity inside of Japan because of the popularity outside of Japan.

Books on tenkara were written by authors outside of Japan, fanzines, Internet HP (home page) produced and the business of tenkara is established outside of Japan. "American tenkara" is now well established.

Tenkara, the method has grown from a small group of Japanese fly fishers bringing mountain stream trout to market. Their rods and methods are generally known throughout the world as Internet access displaces the media information once brought to the general populace through newspaper, books, magazines and film. The equipment and methods can be described and built by non-Japanese sources. It is no longer necessary by the public court to travel to Japan and bring forth the tenkara experience.


I find that tenkara is my connection to Japan and my practice of tenkara connects me to that small community where it all began. Tenkara Fisher is fashioned after Japanese tenkara communities home pages where many of the enthusiasts are shared within the content. I look at my writing here as a blog and nothing more than that. I am reflecting on my experience with it. I now have a history of practicing tenkara and am realizing how the rods were made, the evolution and construction by Japanese technicians in the rods that I use. Often it is cause for my time spent in sharing my experiences as an American tenkara fisher.