What I've Learned About Tenkara

I have always wanted to know what others have learned from tenkara. Not a focused piece on a particular question, but an open, you choose what to write type of a piece. I recently decided that it was time to ask others. I've been doing it for a while myself, known about it for a lot longer but what is it that this relatively simple form of fly fishing has taught us?

Without going on any more about it, below is what I could put together.


Vladimir Bushclyakov

Three years ago, accidentally stumbled upon a video, recognized the word Tenkara. And somehow I liked it and dragged on. Perhaps its outward simplicity
Initially, there was a greedy collection of information, And everything and everywhere 
Now she’s let go a little, I’m calmer.

I found out for myself that the most valuable thing is communication with other fishermen. Everyone does not have two identical experiences, their own approaches, their own keys!

I don’t quite like the word Tenkara, I don’t understand it, it doesn’t explain how to fish. I prefer kebari fishing or fly fishing. Everything is simple and clear.

The name Tenkara appeared about 60 years ago. Before that, there was mountain fishing, fly fishing. The craft by which people earned their living.

For three years, I did not learn much много. But this does not stop moving on. Communicate with interesting people, knit not beautiful flies, catch fish and even let it go for your pleasure. Good to all!


David Noll

I first heard about Tenkara on the BPL forum sometime in 2009 when they announced a buy in for a rod “perfect for backpacking”, the Hane. My wife and I were really into backpacking and I thought fishing would fit in well with our trips out west. I took the plunge and ordered the rod from BPL and flies and misc gear from Tenkara USA. I took the Hane along on our trip to the Wind River Range in 2010 and actually caught a brook trout. I played with it just enough over the next couple of years to know that I wanted to learn more and learn the right way.

In late 2012, knowing that I really wanted to get involved with fly fishing when I retired, I contacted Chris Stewart about ordering a Tenkara rod. I remember asking Chris why I should pay more for one of his rods rather than one from Tenkara USA. His answer was, that while would both catch fish, the Japanese rod would be more fun (Ford vs Ferrari). He also said that since we go out West every summer I should hire a guide who specializes in Tenkara.

Long story short, I met Paul Vertrees and an addiction got kick started. He showed me where to find fish and how to catch them. Since then, I have fished in ten states, plus Spain and Chile, with many different guides and friends who all have taught me something. I have attended many of the Tenkara events and have met and fished with more people than I can count.

For me Tenkara is not about the fish caught, (still important) but more about the people and the fun we have together. The memories of campfires shared, laughs at foibles and follies will remain, long after the last fish is caught. It is about a walk with my granddaughter along a stream, a grandson catching his first trout, time spent not thinking about life. And, when I am alone, time well spent. Just me, the stream and the trout.


Tyson Sparrow

This is a very difficult question to answer.

After much pondering I think I have a rudimentary answer. First and probably most notable is the connection to my environment. I’m a life long fisherman yet after endeavoring into the rabbit hole that is Tenkara I find mechanics of a real, eyes on a rod, long line, are all forms of disconnect. Tenkara is tactile, immersive, and surprisingly intuitive.
Someone once told me guitar is the easiest instrument to learn yet the hardest to master. In my mind Tenkara is very similar, anyone can grab a rod and catch fish, but there is only one Massami, Fuji, or Kiechi. Most of us will never have a fraction of their skills. I’ve accepted this but refuse to limit my learning as much as possible.
Tenkara has become more than just fishing for me. It’s become a way of life. In some ways it has become a large part of my well being. A rock I rely on and look forward to. It has become something I don’t want to ever stop doing. 

It’s New Years Eve and the first thing I did was go buy my fishing license so I can hit the river early, while everyone else sleeps in. Maybe one of the best benefits of Tenkara has been my sons love of it too. We both plan on a good solid day of fishing on the 1st.
What I’ve learned is that I’ve only scratched the surface of Tenkara. What I’ve learned is I will never stop learning, this is journey that I will wander on for the rest of my life.


David Walker

I discovered the board game Go several years before discovering tenkara fishing. I have learned Go and tenkara have many parallel things in common. btw – the game of Go is short for Igo in Japanese [囲碁] in English it is usually written in upper case as Go to indicate it is the board game. In China (where it originated somewhere between 4,000 ~ 2,500 years ago) it is called “weiqi”, in Korea it’s called “baduk”. Something about the world’s oldest board game that is still played today appeals to me.

Both Go and tenkara have come into the western world from Japan. As a result both have Japanese names for various activities within each sport. Go has terms such as; tesuji, gote, sente, hane, joseki, tengen, hoshi, even kakari (meaning corner play). And in tenkara we have all learned terms such as; sakasa kebari, sasoi, tsuri, otsuri, tamo, and so on. And both use “atari”, indicating a capture may soon happen.

Both Go and tenkara are capturing games. In Go the goal is to capture the opponent’s stones or territory. In tenkara fishing the goal is to capture fish. Or maybe the real goal is to capture an enjoyable day outside on a stream in a river valley or plain. Maybe alone or with a friend or three.

Both Go and tenkara have very simple fundamental rules that result in an amazing amount of flexibility or options as one pursues developing higher levels of skill, yet the simple rules also allows beginners to find success and enjoyment. The flexibility is enough to allow a lifetime to master or develop more sophisticated skills or techniques of play.

Both Go and tenkara have popular manga or amine young champions of the sport. Go has “Hikaru no Go” [ヒカルの碁] and tenkara (fishing) has “Tsurikichi Sanpei” [釣りキチ三平 ] .

Both Go and tenkara have masters of the game that attract the attention from an international audience that are inspired by their level of skill, and many people study or pursue trying to emulate their style of play. The late Go Seigen is regarded as the greatest professional Go player of the 20th century. Koichi Kobayashi one of the great players of recent decades, and just recently, at the age of 19 years old, Shibano Toramaru [芝野虎丸名人] won the Meijin title. Just as tenkara anglers may favor and study the tenkara fishing style of Tenkara no Oni (Masami Sakakibara) , Dr. Ishigaki, Fuji Hiromichi, or other skilled tenkara anglers with the aim to improve their own skill. Another facet of these sports beyond skills is researching the culture or history of the activities.

There is a popular Go story from China, a one-frame cartoon showing two men playing Go, with this caption. “Just one game they said, and started to play. That was yesterday.” Indicating an enjoyable activity that can hold your attention for a long time. Go has a few nicknames; Hand talk, Sit-Still, and Trouble-Forgetter. That I think also fits tenkara. Companionship, sit still, tell a story or tie a few kebari, or go tenkara fishing - forget your troubles for a little while.

Of course I have also learned many other things over the last 9 years “from tenkara”, maybe more than “about tenkara”. I’ve learned to read a little bit of Japanese. Which has also come in handy pursuing my interest in taiji-qigong [太極氣功]. The spoken words are different, but the kanji means the same thing in both Japanese and Chinese.

I have learned to enjoy freshwater fishing again. An activity I had not done since I was a teenager. Only doing a little saltwater fishing during an annual trip to the coast. Oh, along the way, maybe thirty years ago, I became interested in fly-fishing after several months watching Saturday morning TV shows about it sponsored by 3M-Anglers. But quickly dropped the idea after a trip to a local outfitter where when I requested a quality basic setup, not their lowest cost, and not their most expensive, when the price, before they were finished, approached $900 I claimed I had been paged, and hurried out the door. It was Orvis stuff, I’m sure it was nice, but I didn’t need that much ‘niceness’.

TUSA’s low cost for Ayu and Iwana rods in the spring of 2010 lured me into giving tenkara a try. It’s back to basics fishing method appealed to me. I like simple quiet activities. That also includes some physical activity. If going out on a lake or saltwater sound, going on a sailboat, windsurfer, or kayak is my preference over a powerboat or Jet Ski.

I’ve learned there are many talented people attracted to tenkara that keep things interesting. Some people collect, and share great stories or interviews; others offer knowledgeable opinions about rods, lines or other accessories. Others are talented at publishing on-line digital tenkara blogs, forums, magazines or videos. And many generous people have sent me good information or some item they have made using their own craft skills. I am a bit embarrassed I have no exceptional skill to make something for them to return the favor. Communicating regularly with people from other countries is not something I expected to be doing before taking up tenkara. I rather imagine eleven years ago - none of the Japanese tenkara experts imagined that tenkara fans worldwide would now know their names, seek to meet them, and seek their advice.

Lastly, what I’ve learned about tenkara is that one guy, Daniel Galhardo, built a tenkara locomotive in the western world, sent it down the tracks, and soon many people jumped on the train to go along for the ride. Or hitched their own cars onto the train. Some cars carried online meeting rooms; other cars carried accessories or competing products; other cars collections of tenkara skills they’ve learned from the most talented people.

As for myself, I enjoy both Go and tenkara, but I think I am not very skilled at either one. But I still have fun. Other people can, too. That’s the best thing to learn about tenkara.


Trout hunting in Kauai

Adam Trahan

I have been fly fishing for 50 years. For the last 30, I've been specializing in mountain stream fly fishing.

23 years ago I meet Yoshikazu Fujiokawe were sharing our love of fly fishing small streams through our web sites on the Internet. Back then, tenkara was a brief mention on his web site, not the focus it is now and I did not understand how effective it was because the topic we shared overshadowed tenkara.

Ten or so years ago, I was introduced to Daniel Galhardo when I became aware that I wanted to try tenkara. His narrative was honest and he gave the Japanese masters another platform for their voice. The stories of his exploration in Japan to find tenkara was honest. To this day, I still miss his tenkara diary entries. He accurately portrayed many of the humble Japanese tenkara experts that I went on to meet in Japan.

Seven years ago, I meet Keiichi Okushi. He approached me to help him reach tenkara fishers. Together we share our love of Japanese style fly fishing as we practice it with friends in the headwater streams of Japan and on my adventures in North America. Like Fujioka-san and myself, Okushi san is an accomplished fly fisherman as well as a tenkara fisher. That is a common thread with most experts, western fly fishing.
Tenkara is Japanese style fly fishing, it is easy to learn, hard to master. 
It is simple however there is more to it than can be learned from one person.


Mike Shelton

I have been fly fishing for many years and felt there was way too much emphasis on gear and stuff in general. At the time I started fly fishing premium fly rods ran around $300 - $350 dollars. Over the years the prices seem to jump more than college tuition. Those premium rods that ran $300 now were selling for $850 to $1100 dollars. I was looking for simplicity in fishing for trout in mountain streams. Then I noticed an ad for Tenkara USA and a picture of David Galhardo fishing with very little in the way of gear. Where was the vest and 30 pounds of gear crammed into the pockets and a supportive back brace to help him carry all the stuff? This one advertisement in the back of a fly fishing magazine started my journey into tenkara.

Tenkara has shown me that observation, technique, and skills are more important than gear. How I approach the stream, moving, camouflage, stream flow, casting locations, and focus on all the surroundings has greatly enhanced my fishing experience. Tenkara has taught me how to hunt for trout, not just cast and pray. The community of tenkara anglers is extremely helpful in guiding you to grow and learn the sport. I have found that many people go out of their way to help you, offer suggestions, and answer questions so that you develop the skills needed for success. Coming from a fly fishing background did help me immensely when entering tenkara by accelerating my learning and success.

An unexpected benefit occurred from tenkara was my interest in learning more about the people and culture that developed this sport. Tenkara helped me expand my interest into many other avenues such as language, japanese history, their holidays, folklore, religion, and art. We all need to continue to learn and study once we finish our formal education. Learning helps us to stay young and not stagnate. Another benefit was meeting people all around the world that had the same interest in this style of fishing. I realize that the world of tenkara was truly a global community of people working, talking, and sharing their common experiences in fishing. In a time of hate, war, and politics there was something greater that brought people together rather than separate and fragment them into small groups.

Near the end of my academic teaching career I was looking for something to offer me a new challenge and enjoyment to guide me through my retirement years. Tenkara offered me a chance for quiet reflection and peace. Once I became interested in tenkara the next thing I noticed was telling other people about the sport. I felt like John the Baptist spreading the gospel of tenkara. I wanted as many people as possible to enjoy this unique activity. People like being outside and enjoying nature and what better way than tenkara fishing! I have introduced my son, daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren, students, and strangers to this amazing sport. So get out there and start fishing.

My grandson, Reed, at 20 months of age and the old guy is me.
It doesn’t get any better than this.


Photo credit: Jeff Rueppell

What I've learned about tenkara in the last 11 years

Eleven years of practicing tenkara, and seeking the knowledge contained within it, has taught me a great deal about tenkara. As a matter of fact, I had enough to fill a book of 208 pages about it, and several pages that didn’t make it into the book, and that was almost 3 years ago!

Yes, I’ve learned how to cast, how to present my flies, how to land fish, and how to approach a stream. But, reflecting on the lessons learned over the last 11 years, 

I think I can summarize the main things I learned about tenkara as follows:
  1. Keeping it simple is essential. Simplicity is not a buzzword, or just something that will appeal to the minimalist. Carrying fewer choices of flies, simplifying the rig, leaving accessories behind, and other things we often discuss while talking about tenkara allow us to focus on the fishing in front of us and stop thinking so much about all the other stuff. It actually helps improve our catch rates, and makes us better anglers. 

  1. It’s not about the equipment, it is the knowledge that counts. Good gear will do what you want it to do, but you must know what you want to do in the first place.  A bit along the lines of point #1, it is important to learn the fewer pieces of gear that we carry. And, interestingly, when you leave things behind it forces you to learn to use what you have on you. When you simplify your rig, it forces you to observe how it all works in the water.
  2. Let your intuition take over. When we get absorbed into a new activity, we devote a lot of time to learning all of its ins and outs. And learning different aspects of tenkara is indeed essential: we need to learn the knots, have an idea how to cast, understand that we can present the fly in different ways, and there are tips and tricks that will help with all of that as well as setting the hook and landing the fish. But, tenkara taught me to not overthink most aspects of fishing, and by not overthinking my fishing I have been able to connect with a primitive intuition that I believe is in all of us when we pursue our catch. 

I've learned that tenkara is simply a conduit to connect us with a simpler time in our lives, and a tremendous way to have fun regardless of what others think, or say.

Keiichi Okushi

Tenkara fishing for me is genryu fishing. It is a fishing done in the deep mountains where should be called the last real nature left in Japan. When I was a boy, there were still some nature left in Japan even in a town too. There were many woods and some beautiful rivers in my town. At that time, if we go a little toward the countryside, there were rich forests and lakes, and if we go to the sea, there were beautiful white sandy beaches and pine forests that are described as "Hakusaseisho(white sand blue pine)". They were landscapes that could be called the original landscape of Japan.

Several decades have passed since then, and the woods in the town have become residential areas and the rivers have been hardened with concrete for revetment work. Rural forests and lakes have been transformed into industrial parks or bland parks, and the beautiful beaches have become miserable views, lined with ugly concrete tetrapods (wave dissipating blocks), due to the erosion of sand of beaches, which is the damaging effect of dam constructions. In the last few decades, Japan has become economically prosperous, but in exchange for that we have lost some really important things that cannot be bought with money. It's about nature and the peace of our minds.

In such sad situations, only the genryu fishing fields (In deep mountains) have still had the beautiful landscapes as it was in the past. For about 9000 years after the ice age, these landscapes of the genryu areas have probably changed little. Place ourselves in such nature and we go up the river in search of iwana. In the evening, we set a tarp on the riverbank and drink sitting around the bonfire. We spend the night in this beautiful Japanese nature, that our ancestors would have seen thousands of years ago. The most important thing that Tenkara fishing taught me is the great nature of Japan. Hopefully, I want to leave this beautiful nature to our children and grandchildren. I think I am not the only one who thinks such things. Many people around the world want to preserve their precious and beautiful nature for the next generation.

It has been a long time since the issue of global warming was proposed. However, to date no effective solution has been implemented. Global warming alone has an immense impact on ecosystems, but I think the resulting changes in the natural environment on a global scale, such as the enlargement and frequent occurrence of secondary natural disasters, have reached a stage where there is no waiting. I am often worried that this problem will accelerate in a shorter period of time. Now, I want people all over the world to think seriously about this change in the global environment. At the very least, I want people to point to the right path we never be ashamed to children. If the nature of genryu areas, where we enjoy tenkara fishing, disappears with the global climate change, I think the earth will no longer has an environment where humans can live.


Jason Klass

Anyone who’s made fishing a lifelong pursuit knows that there’s an evolution to it. Your first attempts are probably clumsy, awkward, and mysterious—spending countless hours staring at the water wondering if you’ll ever catch a fish. Or if fish even exist in that stream, lake or pond. But over time, you develop confidence. The fish begin to cooperate. Your casts become more elegant and avoid the trees. You find your cadence. You develop your own mastery. And eventually, you earn the right to form your own philosophy on the subject.

As someone who has been a diligent student of all forms of fishing, I believe that my entire fishing career culminated into tenkara. It taught me to reject a lot of assumptions I had formed about our sport and to learn more about myself not only as an angler, but also as a person. It’s not the end of my angling journey by any means, but it has certainly been a milestone.

I could exhaust the topic, but here are three simple things that tenkara has taught me—lessons I think every angler will eventually learn if they stick with it long enough ...

I’m a better angler than I thought

When I was 13, I used to flip through the pages of the Orvis catalog gawking over all the gear. At the time, I thought (like many) that more gear = more fish. What I didn’t realize was that I was being tactically marketed to. That’s the perception the gear sellers want. They want to tell you that the more money you spend, the more “successful” you’ll be on the water. As someone with a background in marketing, I understand that. Most of marketing it based on creating an artificial perception—that you’re somehow inadequate unless you buy our product. Think of how Maybeline makes women think they need eyeliner to be attractive. The truth is, tenkara has taught me that I don’t need all the latest gear invented by bored stale, bored product designers to enjoy fishing. Today, I use about 90% less gear than I used to and I enjoy my time on the water as much now as I did then. Arguably, more because I know that I’m catching fish based on my own skill rather than the gimmick of the month touted in Flyfishing Magazine. 
Fish are stupid.

Well, maybe not “stupid”. But they’re certainly not as smart as I thought. I spent many years reading technical books that made me characterize trout as biological computers programmed to discriminate even the best-tied fly. The entomology books would have you believe that trout can actually count the number of tails on every species and refuse a fly if one were missing. The truth is (I’ve learned), they don’t have PhDs in entomology. You probably know more about insects than they do.

I have much empirical evidence to back this up. As tenkara typically shuns “matching the hatch”, I’ve caught thousands of fish with the “wrong” fly in completely the “wrong” situations. One anecdote I can share was a trip to the San Juan river where a size #20 fly is considered “huge”. Convention wisdom dictates that you fish #24 midges. The smaller the better. Yet I fished #12 sakasa kebari and was catching more fish than my friend who was adhering to the status quo. When it comes right down to it, fish are animals and look for certain key characteristics of flies before they decide to take: color, motion, shape. So now, rather than copying patterns form entomological books, I design all of my flies based on the triggers that appeal to the basic, predatory instinct of trout. Tenkara has taught me to focus on those triggers rather than what the PhDs write. It’s more about being in tune with their instinct than what looks good on the vise. 
Fly Fishing is NOT an elite sport

For the last 30 years, I’ve witnessed a raft of barriers to entry put up by fly fishing manufacturers resulting in the perception that it’s an elite sport. But tenkara shatters those notions. And much to the dismay of the manufacturers. The minimalism of tenkara proves that you don’t need a $900 rod, $500 reel, and $150 line to catch fish. No one should feel intimidation by cost to enter our noble sport. And tenkara proves that. You can get started with a minimal upfront investment. In a dying sport, I consider this a godsend. While I have $1,000 rods, I find myself taking my $150 rod out on the water because I’ve learned that the fish don’t care about how much you spent. And when you’re on the water, facing a beautiful sunset, watching the fish take your fly, you won’t either. You cannot put a price on those memories. With tenkara, anyone can get into fly fishing. Not just the rich.

Some of my ideas here might seem aloof, but I’m willing to take that risk. I’ve earned it. And you will too. If there’s one point I’d like you to come away with from this article, it’s to find your own way. Spend as much time on the water as you can. Throw the catalogs in the trash. Observe. Practice. Be patient. Your own cadence will come. Just give it time.


Jay Johnson

What I’ve learned about tenkara can be answered in a few ways. From a superficial understanding, it is as simple as the marketing: a rod, line, and fly. Tenkara is a telescoping, fixed-line rod that can deliver a fly and a light line to achieve superior drifts and fly control. It’s this view of tenkara that makes it great for a simplified and easy way of fly fishing. I’ve learned that tenkara can be a light, compact way to fish while biking, hiking, backpacking, or to have a setup to throw in your car or suitcase for “just in case” situations. 

From a skills perspective, I’ve learned that tenkara is more than just a type of rod. It is an entire method. Different flies, lines types and lengths, wind conditions, water conditions, and types of manipulations combine together to form a system that is much more complex than simple drag free drifts. Going beyond the “simplified fly fishing” concept, tenkara is an extremely nuanced method of mountain stream fly fishing. 

Tenkara has a cultural side to it as well. Tenkara is rooted in the mountains, going from headwaters, to middle streams, and finally mainstream river fishing. The history of tenkara via bear hunters and professional fisherman is fascinating. The current culture of genryu anglers venturing deep into the mountains, foraging for wild edibles, and communing over bonfires with food and friends goes beyond the “it’s just fishing” mantra you might hear outside of Japan. I’m not trying to put tenkara up on a pedestal, but it really is a lifestyle, just as hardcore fishing of any discipline can be. In the end, I haven’t learned much about tenkara. Unfortunately, the language barrier is a real obstacle. I read what I can from English sources. I use google translate to search cool pictures and videos on instagram and youtube to learn as much as I can visually. What I have learned for sure is that it’s a great way to get outdoors, visit some beautiful places, and hopefully catch some trout.


What I have learnt about tenkara?

I have pondered the question; only to find that I thought the question to be “what I have learnt from tenkara?” In the end, I found rest in the realization that the two versions are probably the same, or that I will answer them the same …

I suggest …my ten key “colors”:

First, lightness. I have learnt that I can fish light; light in the sense of using the minimum and living “lightly”. Less stuff, one or two fly patterns. The amount of tackle doesn’t make the fisher or quality of experience. Some of the best tenkara accessories are re-cycled goods (especially fly boxes and line holders).

Second, equality; especially that all fish – large and small – are equal. The limitations of my preference in tenkara (light rods and lines) make me appreciate the smallest of fish.

Third, losing and landing a fish is the same thing. I derive as much pleasure from losing a good fish because of the lightness of my tackle as landing one.

Fourth, to be at ease. I am at ease with fish out of range or spooked by trying to get too close.

Fifth, to watch and take-in. My approach with tenkara, getting closer, make me watch and observe more, where I step, how best to approach a fish or drift.

Sixth, closeness matters and enriches the experience. This includes observing drifts and fish.

Seventh, making tackle is fulfilling, and tenkara offers much too tinker with and make (especially lines).

Eight, increased connectedness and continuity … There are reasons why largely similar fixed line techniques developed in different parts of the world simultaneously. And, tenkara – in principle – remains what it always was. Critically, it is a technique developed by ordinary people, not solely for enjoyment, but to sustain life, and its instruments from meagre, locally available materials.

Ninth, to take time, to put in effort, including translating Japanese one word at a time to find out more about historic texts.

Finally, in a troubled and divided world, I learnt that there are others, continents apart, who feel the same about a simple approach to pursue trout.


Chris Cameron

Tenkara is simple. A rod, line and fly are all that is required. Tenkara appeals to the minimalist. Tenkara is deceptively complicated, you can have fun using it at a simple level, but you can also dig much deeper. Remembering my Oni School experience I went in thinking I understood Tenkara. On the last day of the school my eyes were opened as I witnessed Oni catching many fish with a giant kebari luring the fish. There was no real hatch going and I was amazed at his technique.

Tenkara is a game of many styles. You can play it a variety of ways and make up your own style. I learned there is value in gaining knowledge from experts and learning their way of playing the Tenkara game. Whenever I have the opportunity to learn from someone I try to approach it naively. This opens me up for learning.

Tenkara is a game that I enjoy playing. I enjoy the gear. I enjoy going on adventures to find new water and new fish. I enjoy trying the many styles of Tenkara and learning new techniques. I love being outside and the beautiful places pursuing Tenkara takes me. I love creating flies and testing out patterns and materials. These are some of the many things I’ve learned about Tenkara.


Go Ishii

I was just a little kid when I first tried tenkara. I was 10 or 11 years old, and had been bait fishing in small mountain streams near my home town manageable by someone of that age. ( I think the term is recognized in the US as “keiryu” fishing?) It was just one picture I saw in the keiryu magazine that taught me that there was a traditional method of fly fishing for mountain streams in Japan called Tenkara.

The picture was of an angler that had one foot forward-crouching over stealthily stance with a long, soft looking rod with a yellow line attached to it and pulling an iwana out of an absolutely freighting looking water with lots of white bubbles rushing down. Tenkara instantly became my obsession.

With no internet, no books (this I think 1988), I could only imagine how tenkara was to be fished. I had some thick yellow saltwater line, so I attached that to my keiryu rod, tied on some store-bought flies and gave it a go. I didn’t understand the mechanism of tenkara casting, nor how I was to entice fish, nor… well, I just didn’t know anything.

Many years passed until I finally caught a fish with a tenkara fly. I was going to school in the US but went back to Japan for most summer breaks. I think I was 17 or 18 when it finally happened. This time I had equipped myself with a proper tenkara gear, and a lot of luck came into play as well.

When I returned to Japan from the US at age 30 to start a business, I knew that I had to learn tenkara from proper sources. Perhaps from those considered as leading experts. So I did!

In the next 12 years, I not only had the privilege to meet tenkara experts from all over Japan. Including some that live deep in the mountains and still fish and live the life style I only thought existed in folk tales, but also made a lot of friends who share the passion for tenkara and the mountain streams.

Tenkara was once a well-kept-secret, that was only practiced by those few who knew the techniques to thrived deep in the mountains. Places where one bad decision could take your life; where wild Asian black bears roam. Before being a good tenkara angler, you had to be a good mountain man to fish tenkara.

I’ve sat down around a fire and heard so many stories. How much weight they had to carry and trek for days to deliver their catch to different villages, or how their fellow fisherman fell from a water fall and never was found, or how a flash flood almost killed them… and so on.

Even today, every so often an angler would perish fishing in the mountains. It is that nostalgia, wisdom and stories that draw a lot of people to pick up a tenkara rod in Japan. Because the risk behind the challenge of being in the mountains make our target species; yamame, amago and iwana that much more precious and attractive.

To the Japanese, tenkara is perhaps more than just a method of fishing. There is some romance to the sound of the word “tenkara.”


Jonathan Antunez

Tenkara is more than just a tool. It is a well-developed system of rods, flies, and techniques. I may have started fishing with Tenkara in 2011, but it wasn’t until I attended the Tenkara Summit in Estes Park Colorado in 2017, that I began to understand what a disservice I had done to my angling success by neglecting Japanese Kebari and Japanese Manipulation Techniques. After that fateful summit, my success with Tenkara reached new levels that I never thought possible.

I started my foray into the “system” of Tenkara, by tying more traditional Tenkara patterns. Japanese Tenkara Kebari are 100% wet, so the first flies to drop off my tying planet was dry flies. Gone also were the “do nothing” non-hackled nymphs more commonly used in western angling and euro nymphing. There isn’t anything wrong with those flies, per say, but I feel they do limit your presentation techniques to a dead drift. I cannot express to you what a boon the Futsu kebari (Stiff Hackle) has been to my upstream presentation. I also tied more of the well-known Sakasa Kebari, and the Jun Kebari. All Kebari were made to be moved, pulsed, and dragged with their various types of hackles. Motion is the key, which lead me to my next discovery.

Manipulation techniques have been an absolute game changer in my angling success. Imagine trying to play chess when you only understand how to move a pawn. Simply put, you would take a few pawns down, but you’d miss out on a lot of play. This is why manipulation techniques are so essential to practice and master. Sasoi (pulsing), Pon-pon (surface tapping), Yoko-biki (downstream fan), and Gyaku-biki (downstream swinging pulse) are just a few techniques that have added to my fishing repertoire. Because of these techniques, I no longer have to accept refusal from a fish. I just tempt it with a different presentation.

As for Rod selection, I have definitely shifted towards Japanese Rod manufacturers. Not only do I feel that they have a better construction, but they have an innate ability to perform the very subtle manipulations that Tenkara utilizes. Japanese rod manufacturers know their customers so they design rods with these qualities in mind. After using Chinese manufactured rods for seven years, these rods felt like heaven to me. Along with the rods, I started using level lines more exclusively and longer overall line setups. I go through tippet at obscene rates, but the results are drag free drifts and more fish caught.

I’d like everyone to have the “aha!” moments I’ve had. The stream-craft of traditional Japanese Tenkara is just as deadly effective today as it was in its inception. I have still so much left to learn but it’s exciting to be on the journey. If you fish for trout in high mountain rivers, and you’d like to have more success on your visits there, please take everything above to heart. I never realized what I was missing until I began using the tools of Tenkara all together. My hope is you will have as much fun with it as I have.


Morgan Lyle

For Americans, simply hearing that there is such a thing as tenkara is a real learning experience. Talk about an eye-opener. Here is something so like the fly-fishing so many of us love, yet so different. It offers a portal across the Pacific into another culture and is now the center of a new culture here. 

I learn something every time I meet someone new who is excited about tenkara. As the community has grown, I’ve met men and women, old and young, liberal and conservative, city folks and country folks. They have in common a love of nature and an adventurous spirit. 

In terms of fishing technique, I have learned that while “matching the hatch” can be fun, it's only necessary sometimes, like when trout in a glass-flat tailwater have been eating the exact same bug every afternoon for two months. I've also learned that glass-flat tailwaters bore me to tears. Give me a tumbling brook that hides the trout, and let me go look for them with a kebari. 

I’ve learned that the less attention you have to pay to your equipment and your casting, the more attention you can pay to your fishing – that is, you become wholly absorbed in where the fish are, where you want to put your fly, and what you want the fly to do when it gets there. A tenkara rod is a simple tool, and I find myself wielding it without much conscious thought. I believe that tunnel-vision focus on the fish, the water and the fly is a big reason why tenkara is so effective.


Michael Agneta

I've learned tenkara...
is easy to be somewhat competent at, but its complexities will never allow one to master...  
enriches one's appreciation for nature, conservation, and overall respect for the outdoors... 
is mispronounced by pretty much everyone... 
introduces you to people from across the world, some of which become true friends...  
tolerates nymphs and other "western" alterations, but truly sings with soft or stiff hackled wets...  
encourages you to travel (extremely lightly) to places you'd never before considered visiting... 
is kindling for the flame of everything good (and unfortunately bad) about social media...  
makes you wish you could speak and read Japanese... 
has you downloading the Duolingo app and overusing Google Translate to try... 
is totally misunderstood by at least half the people who believe they are practitioners... 
makes it really hard to explain to your family members why you enjoy it so much... 
and even harder for those family members to understand why you're buying so much yarn... 
puts you in situations to write esoteric blog posts... 
helps you catch a lot of fish... 
but also realize the fish are only a small part of the overall experience.

David West Beale

Here’s something I wrote several years ago - just after discovering tenkara for myself. It’s not the whole story, I have since learned, but it still rings as true for me now as it did back then:

‘Before I took the plunge, like all of the rest of us, I absorbed the 'hype', watched the YouTube videos and digested the magazine articles. I learned of the zen-like one fly approach, that tenkara brings a near spiritual dimension to fly fishing and a zillion and one other little things that the non-tenkara angling majority are missing out on.

Actually my primary motives for getting into tenkara were at first purely practical, as only an idiot could fail to see how tenkara might bring real fish catching advantages. I have certainly never been accused of being a purist when it comes to fishing, in fact I am quite happy to mash-up genres and styles if helps put fish on the bank, so to speak. So it wasn't with any delusions of elitism that a tenkara rod eventually came into my grasp. And I must admit that it wasn't without certain reservations over the perceived limitations of tenkara either. Cynical? Me? Well maybe a bit, but I prefer 'pragmatist'.

So to say that my first actual steps along the metaphorical tenkara stream bed have been a revelation is an understatement. True, it is very early days in my tenkara journey, but I have already satisfied myself of its effectiveness for finesse presentations. And many, many others more gifted and blessed with trout streams nearby, demonstrate daily the efficacy of tenkara in its true spiritual home.

You see, it wasn't any of this that took me by surprise. What I didn't predict was how the simplicity of tenkara has changed my experience of the waterside. Gone are the all the concerns over fly lines and reels and how far I can cast. The burden of these responsibilities has been lifted from my shoulders leaving me feeling loose and supple and, well in a way - younger. By this I mean that this feels like fishing as it used to when I was a boy. Before a disposable income and market forces intruded on the fun. So now I am free to travel far and travel light in search of adventure, or .. to not travel at all. And this brings me to the second revelation. What I thought to be the single overriding limitation of tenkara - its fixed line, promises to be for me its greatest asset.

Let me explain. A Scottish ghillie laughingly told me once how the anglers at the loch amused him so. Those on the shore wanted to cast to the horizon. Take the same anglers out on a boat and they wanted to cast to the shore. The grass is always greener I guess but how many opportunities do we fail to spot because we are spoilt for choice with how much water we can cover? The fixed line approach has reminded me to search out those opportunities and make the most of the water I can cover. I am learning to see properly again, to read the environment more keenly and experience my surroundings more deeply. I am noticing all those little incidentals in nature happening around me and becoming part of the story. Yes, this is more contemplative fishing, even meditative at times, where the moment of catching a fish has become one of many possible outcomes.

I know this is preaching to the converted but I just wanted to get it off my chest’.


  1. Thanks for the extensive effort to edit and compile all these various perspectives on tenkara. Ten Colors, indeed.

    Opps,I forgot to include one other observation of similarity between the game of Go and tenkara. Both have a "Go Ishii" - tenkara has Go-san, and the game of Go has Go Stones - in Japanese called - 「碁石(い)Go Ishi (i )」. ;- )

  2. You are welcome.

    I’m that pestering friend that wants something from you that benefits everyone.

    These articles take time and effort on everyone’s part.

    If twenty people are involved, that’s easily 100 times I’ll have to e-mail, message, remind, and generally connect with my friends that contribute.

    That’s not including the fifty or so times I’ll go here and upload the story, fix the syntax, fit and finish.

    ...what am I getting at?

    This is only a blog, a magazine?

    A book?

    This stuff takes time and effort.

    In advance, thank you!


    I appreciate your contribution, thank you.

    For now?

    Practice tenkara your way but know it is Japanese and we appreciate where it came from and thank you for helping us keep the lights on.

  3. Why is Daniel Galhardo's piece lined through? Other than that it was very interesting.

    1. Hello Dave R. I "print" the answers verbatim, exactly how I receive them.

      I think Daniel's response to this question reflects how such an easy but difficult question to answer is easy for the mind to "overthink" and he illustrated that by "striking through" his attempts at it.

      I find it novel and an interesting approach, much like the method itself.

      The cool thing here, Daniel is just a few mouse clicks away and you can certainly ask him yourself.

      Thanks for the comments and I hope you have a great new fishing season.