It’s how Izaak Walton fished, and the samurai, too: a tapered line affixed to the tip of a long, limber rod, with a floating or sunken fly dropped, dapped or drifted through the nooks and crannies of small trout streams, often right below the rod’s tip.
It is making a comeback. Tenkara, a centuries-old Japanese style of fly-fishing that uses a telescoping carbon fiber rod, 10-foot line, tippet and fly — no reel — is beginning to show up on trout creeks and Web sites across the country.
The first American tenkara tackle company opened for business in San Francisco last month, and a Japanese authority on the method will give a talk and demonstration at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum one week from Saturday.
Paradoxically, this style of fishing, designed for the smallest streams, employs 12-foot rods. The line, made of supple, furled (braided) monofilament, attaches to a short length of braided mono permanently fixed to the tip of the rod.
Tenkara rods collapse to 20 inches long, ideal for backpacking along small mountain streams. They are feather light (three ounces), elegant and sophisticated. There is even a nomenclature for the way they flex: a 5:5 is soft, while an 8:2 has a fast action. This is no cheapo crappie rod, so you don’t “swing” it open, but rather extend the sections, one at a time.
And while you can simply dap your fly if you want, you can also cast the tapered line, and even learn what tenkara USA calls “a large repertoire of casting techniques that may come in handy at different fishing situations.”
“It’s a very effective method of fly-fishing,” said Daniel W. Galhardo, founder of Tenkara USA, a native of Brazil, lifelong angler — a director of the famed Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club, in fact — and Asian culture buff who visited a family in Japan that has been tying tenkara flies for 20 generations. “If you’re doing regular western fly-fishing, a lot of times you’re casting farther than you need to and covering water where the fish might not be. Tenkara
really forces you to focus on the area right in front of you. A lot of times, that’s where the fish are. And you have so much more control over where you drop your fly.”
Or as Walton put it in “The Compleat Angler” in 1653, “You must be sure not to cumber yourself with too long a line, as most do.”
A refreshing departure from western fly-fishing is the price of tenkara tackle. Tenkara USA’s rods sell for between $130 and $160, and are guaranteed for life. The furled lines sell for $20. There’s only one size.
Regular tippet is used on the end of the tenkara line, though the company recommends nothing heavier than 5X. Western flies are just fine, but, of course, there’s a long tradition of Japanese patterns, some of them exotic and others that look quite familiar to American eyes.
The Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingston Manor will host a talk on tenkara by Dr. Hisao Ishigaki at 1 p.m. May 23 as part of the opening of the museum’s new exhibit, “Made in Japan.” Ishigaki will also demonstrate tenkara on the Willowemoc Creek in the center’s front yard. Galhardo will be there with tenkara rods to try. There is more information at www. cffcm.net. And check out Tenkara USA’s classy site, www.tenkarausa. com.