I am a horrible blogger; it has been so long since I have blogged, that I had almost forgotten that I had a blog. <sigh> Oh well, there still seems to have been a lot of activity while I am gone. Specifically, the posts on hard cider and Polaris have been hopping – I guess that there are a lot of people who want to drink on the cheap and entire classes of sixth graders who are doing reports on constellations. Anyway, I digress…

I have been focusing my fishing ambitions this summer on improving my skills at tenkara, i.e. actually catching fish with it. Well, I have been quite successful in that endeavor, catching smallmouth bass, brook trout, and more suckers than you can shake a stick at.

My first brook trout caught with a tenkara rod. Only 9 inches, but that is big for the stream I was fishing.

It has been a fun rod to play with. It weighs next to nothing, so it is great to just throw into a pack for those outings that are not about fishing, but are close enough to water that having a rod close at hand could be useful. You might think that using a 12 foot rod in tight cover would be a hindrance, but I have actually found that it is easier to thread my flies through tough areas with the extra rod length; much easier than my 4’6″ spinning rod I had been using before I bought the tenkara rod. (That said, you still have to be aware of your surroundings whether using a Cuban yo-yo or a spey rod)

When you do hook a fish, it is a pretty awesome sensation as you can feel every move that the fish makes. In one way it is more simple to play a fish on a tenkara rod in that you don’t have to fumble with the line or reel, but it is more complex in that you have no backing in case the fish wants to run.

Playing a fish on a tenkara rod reminds me of when I studied aikido in college. I never was very good (only made blue belt), but I did learn a few tricks; I did throw a former Green Beret in the class a couple of times, but I think that is because he let me. He also gave me second favorite quote: “Pain is just fear leaving your body.” (My favorite quote is by Archilochus: “The fox knows many tricks; the hedgehog knows just one – one good one”)

Anyway, aikido is about redirecting your opponent’s energy rather than trying to go force-on-force with him or her. It is the same with tenkara – you use the fish’s energy against it; it will tire itself out quickly, you just need to control how that energy is expended by directing the fish toward the surface and side to side. If nothing else it makes fighting a small fish as much fun a fighting a big fish on sterner tackle.

Tenkara is also ideal for that most necessary of woodland fly casts, the bow and arrow cast. The bow and arrow cast, for those who do not know, is where you keep a short line and pull the fly end of the line back like shooting a slingshot to put a bend in the rod. When you let go the fly will (hopefully) shoot out towards where you were aiming the rod. Not making any sense? Check out my fancy diagram:

The springiness and length of the tenkara rod makes for some accurate bow and arrow casts. It won’t get you on a magazine cover, but it gets the job done.

Also important is that the telescoping nature of the rod and the lack of a reel mean that when you have to crawl through a tangle of alder to get to the next hole, you can turn a twelve foot rod into an 18″ rod in about 2 seconds. Try doing that with a two piece rod.

However, one of major issues with a stock tenkara rod is that the line is just loose when you collapse the rod. Without a reel there is nowhere to coil the line. Enterprising tenkara enthusiasts have a found way to overcome this issue by building line winders onto their rods. Here is mine:

All I did was cut the pieces out of closed cell foam and attach them to the rod with cable ties. The center foam plug is used to hook the fly to and it’s cable tie is kept loose enough that you can adjust it. Simple but effective.

To sum it all up, I think I am a permanent tenkara convert. It is not a style for everyone, but it is catching on. It was almost unknown in this country until Tenkara USA started up just over two years ago, and now it is has become common enough that I am even finding tenkara tackle in a few brick-and-mortar shops now. It is a peaceful and poetic method of fishing. But, just to make sure that I don’t start getting arrogant in my ultralight fly fishing, I do keep a couple small bobbers, sinkers, and bait hooks in my fly box; it does make a dandy cane pole when you are to lazy to cast.