Introduction to Tenkara

By John Pellegrin

Updated Nov 19, 2018

See useful tenkara links and articles from John at bottom of page.

Tenkara is an ancient form of fly fishing that developed in Japan hundreds of years ago. It used long rods made of bamboo, tapered line of braided horsehair, and simple flies constructed of thread and feathers, as well as other natural materials. Over time, the equipment became more sophisticated, with rod sections that fit within each other. Today, rods are constructed with lightweight material, so that a typical length rod of 3 or 4 meters, light weight 2-3 oz. Lines are made from various materials, such as level lines made of fluorocarbon or nylon, and tapered braided lines with various synthetic materials. Although the equipment involved in tenkara is relatively simple, fishing tenkara can be as easy or as sophisticated as one wishes. There has also developed many hybrid approaches by incorporating aspects of Western fly fishing.

Tenkara can be used in all sizes of streams and rivers. Here are a few examples:

Red Lake Creek, in sections not dammed by beavers, is only about 3’ wide. Yet it yields many Brook trout:

Red Lake Creek – Below east side of Carson Pass on Hwy. 88.

Otter Creek is a little larger, maybe 8-10’ across, and offers many small rainbows, not accustomed to anglers:

Otter Creek – A tributary of the Middle Fork of the American..

There are also rivers which are very good for fishing tenkara. Certainly the Upper Sac, the East Carson, and others. Here is a view of the Little Truckee:

Little Truckee

The following references provide a more complete view of tenkara – its history, equipment, and fishing techniques. There are some things to keep in mind, however, in exploring the various references. Tenkara is just a general style of fly fishing, based on the use of a long, telescoping rod, a fixed line, and simple flies. There are many different ways to fish tenkara; it’s whatever a given person finds to be most satisfying. In tenkara, it may be a question of whether or not to use weighted flies, whether to incorporate the use of Western flies, whether to nymph, etc. Then there many styles of casting that various people have found to be effective. For tenkara, there are many expert Japanese tenkara flyfishers. In my own use of tenkara, and in the clinics that I have run, I have relied on the teachings of Dr. Hisao Ishigaki (the most widely used teacher of tenkara in Japan) and Masami Sakakibara (“Tenkara no Oni” – tenkara demon), who is recognized as the top tenkara flyfisher in Japan.

So enjoy exploring the various references and see the different possibilities that interest you. Tenkara in the US has matured a lot since it was first introduced by TenkaraUSA in 2009.

Book References:

  • Tenkara – Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing; Kevin C. Kelleher, MD, with Misako Ishimura. Lyons Press, Guilford CT, 2011, ISBN 978-0-7627-6394-8. This is the first book published in the US about tenkara. It has a good section on the origins of tenkara, as well as some sections that combine some of the aspects Western flyfishing with tenkara. It is available in the GBF library.
  • Tenkara, Daniel Galhardo, Tenkara Press, 2017, ISBN 978-0-9987092-0-8.                      This is a very complete book covering all aspects of traditional tenkara. It also includes QR links to videos illustrating different techniques described in the book. This book is also in the GBF library.
  • Simple Fly Fishing – Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel; Yvon Chouinard, Craig Mathews, Mauro Mazzo; Patagonia Books, 2014, ISBN 978-1-938340-27-7.  As the title indicates, this gives a very persuasive view of tenkara by a well-known personality, as well as a long-term expert in Western fly fishing. It considers both aspects of fly fishing.
  • Reading Trout Water, Dave Hughes, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8117-3644-2. Although this book is not about tenkara, it is widely recommended as an excellent book on how to read all kinds of trout water. It will improve one’s ability to identify the various trout lies in different types of water.

Website Links:

Unless indicated, these are links to sites that offer a number of things, such as blogs, history of tenkara, equipment reviews, purchasing options, and discussion of techniques. There are also many tenkara clubs/organizations/conferences in the US, which can be found with Google.

These articles are also on the GBF library articles page (Library -> Articles):

Landing Large Fish with a Tenkara Rod – by John Pellegrin, Feb 2019

Tenkara & Pesca alla Valsesiana – by John Pellegrin, Jan 2018

Tenkara Flyfishing – by John Pellegrin, July 2013 – John’s tenkara clinic slideshow handout

Retrospective on Oni School – by John Pellegrin, Sept 2019

Tenkara Aerial Mends – by John Pellegrin, Sept 2019

Tenkara Information – by John Pellegrin, Feb 2022