First Tenkara Action..

So today I got a chance to try out Tenkara.

If you have not at least heard of Tenkara then you must have been living in a bubble as it is the new fly fishing craze that is sweeping the states and has gradually moved over here. Tenkara as described by my fishing buddy Atkins is “that huckleberry fin shite” where at its most basic level some kind of fish attracting lure is tied on to a piece of string and then on to a pole – no reel!

Of course, it is a little bit more complicated that that as the fly fishing industry must justify selling us lots of “stuff”. Over in the states they are making a big deal of the fact it originated in Japan where Tenkara when translated literally means – from heaven.

And here is some English chaps having a bash with Grayling taking duns, you get the general idea though:

The rods are surprisingly long – anywhere from 11 to 13 feet, but telescope down to just 20 inches and weigh just 3 oz on average. You can buy a rod for around £100 and a line for an extra £10. A few folk have told me I should get into some of the Tenkara action, honorary Kelvinator’s James Bennet and Chuck from the States (you remember Chuck, he was the one that brought all the rain with him) have been going on about it for donkies,

So, my Tenkara rod (a Seiryu 12foot) has been sitting in the car for the last week and I have been gagging to try it out, I had watched a few videos and read up on as many blogs out there as I could. I got myself a half day from work and had a spare 45mins before I had to be home. I walked to the wee burn that should have been ideal to try it out as that was the kind of water it was developed in Japan for. Pretty much everything was against me though as it was a fair bit windy plus the burn was running very low, I reckon if I had been here last week I would have been hauling them in. Still, I was there fishing and managing to cast the Tenkara rod absolutely atrociously. When I have been watching the videos it looks bloody easy however I was surprised at just how hard it is. I was finding it difficult to get a good line out and weirdly I was getting a pain in my hand as you do not grip the rod the same way you do an ordinary set up.

You do not grip a Tenkara rod the same way…

Saying all that after 20mins I was fair chuggging away at some of my wee pools, unfortunately my favourite wee pool was spoiled by a guy pulling out golf balls so moved down to some pocket water – I cast and as the fly drifted down a wee splash intercepted the fly and it was game on. I had no idea what to do, it looked bloody easy in the videos however I found myself with an extremely bendy rod and a wee fish going bananas. Fairly quickly I realised that the rod can put up with a lot more bendy punishment than an ordinary rod.

First wee Tenkara troot!

I think I can honestly say nobody has caught a trout from this burn fishing Tenkara style ever. I then spent some time on a bridge trying to catch some trout below me – a golf cart put paid to them rising though and it was time to head home.

Oh yea, the sun was at my back also!

I got home to take over child rearing duties only to find the door locked and the family away to the shops not to be returning for an hour or so. “You’ll just have to go fishing” I was told, I did not have to be told twice.

I headed for the Kelvin and I reckon I am the first punter to have a crack at Tenkara on it (or should that be in it?) and got myself set up again. From a distance the river looked ok however as I waded up I realised it was still a bit colored and high. After about 20 yards I was starting to have doubts, I just could not seem to cast it consistently, once cast would be incredibly accurate and straight and the next it would end up in a pile at the end of the rod. Even though the leader was around 12 feet long it did not feel like 12 feet I was casting – in fact the fly was probably around 24 feet from my hand. I suppose that should be enough eh?

Of course the wind did not help, or the lack of rising trout for that matter. I really started to enjoy fishing it again when I got up to some riffles at the top of the pool. At least here I could target areas that I knew would hold trout, on several occasions I watched trout come up from the depths, inspect my fly and then bugger off.

I will tell you something though, not only is Tenkara accurate it also seems like a breeze to control the fly without any drag – I enjoyed trundling my fly down a seem of fast water without the fly dragging like a speedboat. Because the Tenkara rod is so long I could hover the leader and line off the water. This was much more enjoyable and then…..Fish On!


Tell you something, for such a wee fish it put up a fair old scrap on the Tenkara rod, it had an almighty bend in it. I managed to get the trout in with less fuss than the first, a quick photo and then it was gone.

Yussss! 2nd trout on the Tenkara and from the Kelvin…

I am pretty sure that I am the first person to catch a trout from the Kelvin on a Tenkara rod as as well.

I am most annoyed that it is only a few weeks until the end of the season – I wish I had longer to really get to grips with it, I wish I could use it during those dusk sessions when the trout are very willing to take the dry. I will probably get a few more bashes at it before the season is done and then it will really come into its own next season – watch this space!


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  1. Emanuele · September 5, 2012

    Hi mr.
    glad to see that you finally managed to try out Tenkara….
    I have been catching lots of gayiling on it last winter.
    BTW, did you know that a very similar style of fishing called “Valsesiana” was develloped in Italy (long bamboo rods, no reel, for pocket water..) decades ago and my father built thousants of rods for the local fly fishers in the sixties and seventies.
    Now the Valsesiana style is becoming popular again in Italy and a few events have been organized with tenkara masters from Japan meeting up with the “Valsesiana” fly fishers, celebrating the similarities of the 2 styles.

    long drag free drifts with Tenkara…but i still like my traditional casting too much

    ciao ciao

  2. ANDYC · September 5, 2012

    Looks like pole fishing with a fly looks a bit to easy may aswell use a worm

  3. Craigie · September 5, 2012

    Looks like a lot of fun Alistair – could definitely sort out some of my rubbish drifts!

    Any thoughts on the recent grumbles and gripes in the angling press about Tenkara? I think I remember reading in T&S or FF&FT that a whole bunch of places down in Englandshire have banned it on their rivers – likening it to coarse pole fishing. While I can’t envisage ever giving up my fly lines, I think Tenkara looks like a great fun way of catching wee wild trout in pocket water.

  4. Alistair · September 5, 2012

    Hey Emanuele – how ya doing, I do not seem to have your home number anymore, if you drop me a mail I will give you a bell. Tell me, have you used it during this summer? Interesting about the Valsesiana, I did not know that your father made them – stick in an order for two (and send me one!)

    Andy, dude, even YOU could catch a trout on a fly with this set up 😉 Seriously though, you would not be better using a worm as you are casting a fly which is an insect.

    Craigie – I had no idea that it had been banned in places, totally ridiculous as it is really not that much easier, in fact it is really designed for catching small fish on small streams. It is the perfect stick it in your boot or bag rod in case there is a stream near your hotel outfit.

  5. Paul R · September 5, 2012

    I had a go with the Tenkara rod on the Kelvin about a month ago and caught some lovely wee trout. Next day I went to a small stream west of Glasgow that looks a lot like the one you were fishing. Again I caught some really nice trout on the dry. It feels good to think I may have been the first angler ever to catch trout on these waters with a new method.

  6. Si · September 5, 2012

    Alistair, I am highly jealous of your new rod. I have been toying with the idea of buying a tenkara “pole” all season and never quite took the plunge in case it was crap. Sounds however that it might be fun!
    I have been reading a few threads on forums and in the magazines and can’t quite believe the vitriolic reactions of some people to this technique. It seems to me that it is a splendid way of catching trout without a lot of the paraphernalia that we usually lug around.

  7. Alistair · September 5, 2012

    Ha very funny Paul 🙂

    Si – what I will say is that I enjoyed fishing with it much more on the burn than I did the river – please bare in mind I have used it once and was really not very good. I know guys fish with it in rivers and I hope to give it a bigger shot next season.

  8. Brian · September 5, 2012

    Hi Alastair-great to see you managed to try the rod, we are introducing 2 new rods for next season an 8ft an 11ft, the 8ft should be ideal for your burn. I don’t think there are actually too many beats banning Tenkara, just narrow minded who have nevre tried

  9. Alistair · September 5, 2012

    Many thanks to you Brian for taking the chance and sending this old urban fisher one of your rods to try out. It is like anything new when you try it out, first of all you see a few possibilities in its application and then you expand on your experience of it and knowledge. I would have struggled on my wee burn with my standard outfit and was lucky enough to see the potential of what Tenkara can offer after just a few sessions. I see the guys on Youtube really fishing with it expertly and am looking forward to fishing with it in better conditions – I hope not next year. Actually, if I get out after Grayling this year then I may have a wee bash with it then – it should be interesting if I run into a shoal of grayling.

    There is a wee burn that runs through a campsite in the Lakes that I visit now and again – it looks to be full of wee trout – my wife would roll her eyes if she seen me packing my fishing gear however a Tenkara set up would slip in unnoticed.

    One of the things that surprised me was the excitement of catching a trout, any trout, using this method as the fight was totally different and boy those rods sure bend 🙂

    What are the advantages of having a longer or shorter rod?

  10. Mark · September 5, 2012


    I think Izaak Walton describes this method in the Compleat Angler doesnt he?

    Cant for the life of me work out what that Numpty is waggling his rod t in the video thugh, might have to do some more reading….

  11. Peter · September 5, 2012

    I don`t think it matters how you dress it up , it`s still pole fishing. I bought one on holiday a few years ago, makes a nice change, but on the river? Nah I don`t think so. I`ve used it on the canal with good results though, took some nice perch.

  12. Alistair · September 5, 2012

    Hey Peter, I do not think you can actually comment unless you have tried a Tenkara rod. The only likeness a Tenkara rod has with a pole is that it does not have a reel – can you cast a fly with a pole – kind of but not very well however a Tenkara rod is designed to cast a fly.

    I have fished with both Poles and Whips and they are nothing like a Tenkara rod – not got the same action or feeling at all.

    Don’t knock it until you have tried it!

  13. Peter · September 5, 2012

    Have it your way, but you can definitely cast a fly with a whip. Tenkara is an American CO. that imported the basic idea from Japan.

  14. Alistair · September 5, 2012

    Yes sure you can cast a fly with a whip it just a pretty shitty experience.

    I think this sums it up nicely:

    “Many uninitiated observers of tenkara in the UK have compared it to pole fishing or whip fishing but this is a very uneducated observation. Lumping tenkara rods in with poles and whips simply because they don’t have a reel or rod rings is like saying all fishing rods with a reel or eyes are the same… would you try casting a 4oz lead with a 4wt fly rod or try casting a fly line with a beach-caster or carp rod?”

  15. Peter · September 5, 2012

    Alistair, now you`re being totally ridiculous, we`re talking about poles, whips and tenkara rods, nothing to do with beachcasters, carp rods, nor casting a “4oz weight with a fly rod”, but as usual, when someone has a different view from yourself, you tend to come out with hilarious comparisions. Maybe you should read the thread on Fly fishing forums “Pole fishing and Tenkara are the same… discuss” To say I shouldn`t have an opinion, because I disagree, is LIKE saying you are right period, end of. Just for the record, a 12ft whip with a Tenkara leader will cast almost equally well, but at a fraction of the cost. I really do miss the urban fly fisher of old, which was a pleasure to read.

  16. Alistair · September 5, 2012

    Peter, as usual you refuse to compromise when faced with an alternative opinion. All, I am saying is that Like you (and the majority of poeple that I thought that a Tenkara rod would be similar to a Whip – when I got a Tenkara rod I found out (like most people that understand fly delivery) that it was not similar in style or action.

    Look at the diameter of the tip of a whip and a tenkara rod:


    Tell me, how long were you able to compare casting a fly with a Tenkara rod to a whip?

  17. Mark · September 5, 2012

    Now then Children be nice or you’ll be kept in at Playtime!!

  18. Lee · September 5, 2012

    It most certainly does look like a new style of fishing. I think you will get better with it as you practice with it more, as i am guessing it has a different casting technique.

  19. esuk96 · September 5, 2012

    Nice to see you’ve introduced tenkara to the Kelvin Alistair, if you’re looking for something to do during the cold glasgow winter I’ve been writing a wee blog focusing on tenkara fly tying it may be of interest ?. I’ve also only been tenkara fishing for a short while but I’ve had fish up to 1.5lb and the rod handled them very well.

    Looking forward to reading more tenkara stories on the Kelvin soon!

  20. Alistair · September 5, 2012

    Sweet site – do you always use the Tenkara flies or do you use traditional flies as well?

  21. ronpswegman · September 5, 2012

    Tenkara is perfect for small fry. The equipment is also great for the quick set up and take down sometimes necessary in urban angling situations. Also, since the rod has no guides, Tenkara is great for winter fishing.