Techniques Tenkara

The How & Why of Tenkara “Fly First”

The Long Rod Advantage

Many may think that a great feature of the long rods of tenkara is a longer reach in distance. There is some truth in that the longer a fixed-line rod is, the further you can cast out there. I think that is only a novice perspective in regards to the length. The biggest advantage is using that length to keep the line out of the water.

Don’t Disturb Them

Are you slapping your line on the water at the end of your cast? If you are laying line down on the water, you are alerting the fish to your presence. When you stop that long rod high, you give yourself the ability to hold your light line off the water’s surface. If you can do this, there is very little disturbance in the water. That is a big tactical advantage.

Timing Your Landing

Keeping your line off the water during your drift can be a real game-changer. Not disturbing the surface film by snaking your line across the stretch from your feet to where you want to fish that fly is a “win” also. Get your cast timing and stroke stop point dialed in so that your loop carries that fly out and places it first in the drink. Having your attractive bug choice be the first thing in the water may be the very thing that generates more strikes for you.

Fly First

What you are reading now is what many of us have been teaching and speaking of for years. Tenkara rods have a great ability to place that fly first into the water before anything else happens on the surface. You may have heard this before, but what does that even look like? Well, it looks just like this.

Tenkara Fly First - Jason Sparks - Tenkara Angler
Tenkara USA Iwana 12″ 6:4 at the end of a fly first cast on the Blue Ridge Parkway outside of Blowing Rock, North Carolina

The Observation

I get the the “1000 words thing”, but let me explain what is going on here. This rod is a Tenkara USA Iwana 12′ 6:4 rod. The line is 12′ feet long and there is 4′ of 5X tippet at the end. There is very likely a #12 fly on it as well. This image was captured at the very end of the cast. The fly was the first to hit the surface of the water. Note the rings are 12″-15″ inches in diameter. Trailing behind that is the ripples caused by the tippet, which is a mere 3″ wide in that area because it touched later (and lighter). The line itself is still off the water and not creating any issue on this extremely calm section of water.

This is what tenkara “FLY FIRST” looks like. I am sure you can see advantages in the ability to do this. Go give this a try and practice until you have it down. You’ll see the rewards of your efforts. Now head out and have some fun of your favorite water.

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  1. This to me is the least understood advantage of the fixed line approach. The ability to use a longer (and lighter) rod to present your fly and keep the line off of the water at greater distances in order to get a better drift. This is why I made the switch from euro-nymphing to tenkara and I refer to this technique as “euro-nymphing on steroids”. Recently I did an analysis (based on Devin Olsen’s article) of how much an advantage tenkara rods have over shorter rods – I used an 11 foot euro-nymphing rod for comparison and found that a 15 foot tenkara rod has an increased reach of 6-10 feet (depending on presentation angle).

    Would love to hear comments on this.


  2. This was a topic I couldnt cover in my essay. Alot of the old English fixed line guys talk about casting so the fly lands first, and that most of the heavier casting line was to be kept off the water. They were fishing with 15 foot rods. Its a huge advantage. Nothing gets spooked with a fly line.

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