Tenkara Fishing

My apologies to those of you who view this blog on a regular basis. We lost our internet connection about a week ago and our service provider danced around the problem trying a variety of fixes that didn’t work. Then came the holiday, and they were closed. Finally they came out yesterday and replaced our modem. At last, we’re back up and running. I’ll be able to get items up on the blog with regularity again. Today’s topic is fishing with a cane pole and string, well not really, it’s a bit more sophisticated than that.

Tenkara is the ancient Japanese art of fly fishing with a pole and string. Yes, all fly fishing started that way, and up until the middle of the 1600s, basically stayed that way. The uniqueness of Tenkara is that it was, and still is, highly refined and very delicate. Tenkara anglers did not seek large brown trout and Atlantic salmon. The technique was developed on small, swift waters for cherry trout, the slightly larger Iwana, and other tiny chars that inhabit the mountain streams of Japan.

And while the tackle was greatly refined to reflect the fish for which it was developed, it is the flies that are of particular interest. Unlike their soft-hackle counterparts in the West, Tenkara soft hackle flies are dressed with the cup of the hackle facing forward. As Dr. Kevin C. Kelleher and Misako Ishimura explain in their recent book, Tenkara, “The traditional sakasa kebari or reverse hackle fly, is fished with a pulsing tip motion that flares the hackle tips in a seductive manner. Cast upstream of your target, and give the fly time to sink a bit. Send three or four pulses to the fly while retrieving it in the upper six inches of water.”

Tenkara is finding a small following among anglers, worldwide. It can be done with the classic Tenkara rod and static line, but it can also be done with standard fly fishing gear. See Kelleher and Ishimura’s book for more information on this ancient aspect of our marvelous sport.

Tie in the hackle feather at the head of the fly, cup face forward.

Wing the hackle rearward and tie off behind the wound hackle. Form a thread body (or dubbed body (one can add a tail, too, it desired, but it's not traditional).


  1. Hi Gary,
    Great post. Just curious how much you tenkara fish and would love to hear your insights on it.

  2. Gary Borger says:

    I did a lot of Tenkara fishing as a child, not knowing of course that it was Tenkara. And from time to time I get in situations where I dap or use Tenkara-like tactics. From the strictly Tenkara fishing standpoint, I haven’t done any, as I said, since I was a kid. The new graphite telescoping rods however make the whole thing a different matter, and I plan to do some straight up Tenkara next summer in several small streams that I fish. Big waters and biig fish are beyond the realistic scope of Tenkara, but small waters lend themselves to the tactic very well.

  3. Paul Arnold says:

    Gary — If you follow some of the tenkara on the Web (particularly the Tenkara USA forum) http://www.tenkarausa.com/forum/ you will discover that some quite respectable fish are being caught on tenkara rods; e.g., 15″ to 20″ trout, and on the heavy duty tenkara rods, fish like big carp. I’ve been one of your admirers for a long time, and stumbled across your site while googling for tenkara sites. ~Paul