Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Techniques Tenkara

Tenkara Tactics: The Out of Sight Drift

Just because you can’t see the water doesn’t mean you can’t fish it!

Some may stick by the old saying “out of sight, out of mind”, but those folks will miss out on a sneaky tactic for targeting spooky fish. If you cant see the water the fish can’t see you! Let’s take a look at how we can apply tenkara fundamentals to generate a stealth advantage by fishing water we cannot directly see.

Scenario One

I’m kneeling behind tall grass that disrupts my sight line to the water – in order to disrupt the trout’s potential line of sight to me. Through the vegetation I can see a lot of the pool ahead, but I cannot see the tight inside bank where trout are most likely to position.

Keeping the tenkara rod hidden

I make my cast lower than usual and off to the side. This stops the tip in a position nearly parallel to the top of the tall vegetation. I’ve got enough elevation from the bank height to offset the loss of ideal, higher tip position – so I’ve still got good line tension. I intend that the entire cast has moved through space that is impossible to see from where I think the trout are.

I’ve got eyes on the target zone and see the fly land, but the drift takes it out of view as it moves in tight to the bank. Rather than watch the water, I look straight out towards the upstream bank and watch my line. It is not making any big changes in its look, feel, or sound, so even though I cannot see the fly, I’ve got a solid idea of what is happening with it.

Any of the following things will trigger me to instantly set the hook, no matter what I can visually confirm on the water itself:

  • Line suddenly increases or decreases speed
  • Line rapidly gains or loses tension
  • Line movement changes direction or begins to “dance”
  • Splashing noise or Line whistle
  • Rod tugs, ticks, or any physical sensation that breaks the feel of a consistent drift

Scenario Two:

This one is tougher. There isn’t a friendly angle on this near bank like the previous pool. I want to hit the drift close to me as if it is being cast from the opposite bank.

Near bank tenkara rod drift

The backcast goes downstream and out towards the far bank, so I can shoot the forward cast upstream and inwards towards the near bank. I want the tip stop position at the end of the forward cast to be held closer to the far bank than the near one. Luckily I can put the tenkara advantage to use – I don’t have to reach out over the water because the rod length does that for me. This maintains line tension, as the line is held tight between the rod tip and the drifting fly. You can see how critical light line is to a technique like this. Heavier line will make it progressively more difficult to maintain ideal drift conditions without a lot of environmental disruption.

Unlike the first pool, I’m unable to target this piece of water without holding the rod over it in some way. Instead, I can limit the rod’s upstream signature using shorter, quicker cast and smaller casting motion range. This will mean the rod is mostly held downstream of the intended drift line and doesn’t get extended directly over that water I intend to fish. The rod tip will will be up and over but ideally, still behind any trout holding along that drift.

This time, I’m not even able to see the target zone to confirm the cast has landed in position. I’ve got to rely on my familiarity with how the rod and rigging system behaves when the fly is on the water. If it feels right and the line is moving like I expect, I fish it as I would if I had visually confirmed a perfect cast and drift. I’m once again looking straight across the vegetation to the bank so I can watch my line. I can barely see water from that position, but have a great view of my line during the drift. That is all I need!


Fishing unseen water takes some forethought. You’ve got to put some planning into where you cast from, and game through how that position affects your angles of cast, drift, and play. Once you get comfortable lining things up, you can create highly effective approaches to challenging water. If you can’t see them, you’ve got better chances of catching them!

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