I met Daniel from TenkaraUSA yesterday. I learned a lot.
As I mentioned before, Fly Fishing Specialties in Sacramento has TenkaraUSA equipment now. Daniel Galhardo came by the shop yesterday to do a training session for the shop employees. Rick, one of the co-owners, was kind enough to invite me along.
There were 6 or 7 of us and I think I can speak for all when I say I really learned a lot. Also, I'm really excited to get my own Tenkara rod and line and go out on my local rivers and try it.
The first thing which made an impression on me was that there are two aspects to Tenkara. There's Tenkara the equipment, and Tenkara the technique. You can get a Tenkara rod and line and start fishing pretty quickly. But just like western fly fishing, you can dive into Tenkara technique as deeply as you want to go. But at all levels the one big difference is that you keep your line off of the water. The very long rods and the extremely light lines allow you to hold the rod at a 45 degree angle and have the line come down to the water rather than ride on top of it. Daniel says this give you a few of advantages: You don't have to mend the line, you don't have to use floatant, you don't worry about "lineing" the fish and spooking him. This "High stick, line off the water" technique is probably the only part of the Tenkara technique which you pretty much have to use. Even as I write this though I remember hearing Daniel saying that people use Tenkara for nymphing as well so you certainly can put the line in the water if that's what the situation calls for.
The big question was of course "How do you land a fish". Daniel said this is always the first question he's asked because without a reel you technique must totally change. The technique is to simply keep your elbow at your side and tilt the rod back. The rod flexes easily and you just grab the line and pull the fish in.
This brings up another good point. Daniel fully realizes that Tenkara is not a technique for all fishing. It's focused on small mountain streams with fish up to about 20". The largest fish he's caught on Tenkara gear was 22" and he says he knows of a 24" fish which was caught on a Tenkara rod. I think this is part of some misunderstanding about Tenkara. Nobody's saying you should give up your steelhead rod and your salmon rod and your czech nymphing rod for Tenkara. Tenkara isn't better than western fly fishing, it's not worse than western fly fishing, it's different than western fly fishing. It's just another way to accomplish the same goal.
Then we started talking about other fly presentation techniques. You can present a dry fly traditionally, but you can also quite easily sink the fly under the surface and present it as a wet fly. You can also cast just upstream from a small drop off, say about 6" or so, and as the fly goes over the drop off you lower your rod tip and let the fly sink. Now you're fishing 1 to 2 feet under the surface. There are Tenkara masters who use all these techniques, and more, with a single fly. As I said, you can dive into the technique as deeply as you want.
We took a short break and went outside to cast the rods. I always tell people who are learning to cast a fly rod that everything they know about throwing a ball is wrong when casting a fly rod. Less is more. Stopping the rod, not throwing the rod, sends the line out. With Tenkara rods it takes even less power than that. All of us were overpowering the rod. You know the classic "10 o'clock to 2 o'clock" V we all learn when casting? With these rods you make it even smaller. It's more like back casting to 12 o'clock and shooting forward to 10 o'clock. Pretty soon we were getting tight loops but every one of us would then drop the tip of the rod because we're so use to laying the line gently upon the water. With these rods you come back to 12 o'clock, flick your wrist forward to 10 o'clock and stop. That's it. Don't drop the rod because you want to keep the line off the water. When it works you realize that there's almost no power required at all. It's a very subtle casting technique. Before the seminar I was talking to Daniel and he mentioned that he wanted people to be able to fish all day long and not get tired. Now I can see how that would be. The rods are so light and the casting technique so low energy that this idea makes sense to me now.
Finally we asked about those weird Tenkara flies with the forward facing soft hackle. Part of that design is for the guys who want to fish a single fly on the water, under the surface and down in the water column. That style fly can be used in any of those situations. But of course, you can use whatever fly you want. If you want to toss an elk hair Caddis that's fine. Daniel even said that "While I'd never tell people 'Tenkara is for Czech nymping'. I know of people who do use weighted bead head flies and use that technique. But it's not a rod for all techniques, it's really focused on small mountain streams where you're fishing the surface down to about 2 feet under the surface." Dan did mention that Ralph and Lisa Cutter were doing some underwater filming of the Tenkara style flies and Ralph was really impressed with the action of the hackle as Daniel pulsed the fly up and down. The forward facing hackle really opened and closed like it was alive. Last night I tied about half a dozen of these flies just to try it out with my 4wt rod. It will be interesting to see if I can get a response from the fish.
There's still a lot I haven't even talked about. But I can say that I'm very interesting in these rods and this technique. I'm pretty sure I'll be buying the 13' Ayu rod with a 3.5 level line soon and I'm very interested in trying it on the water. For back country backpacking in the Sierras this summer I can absolutely see this as being my primary fishing rod.