Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Techniques Tenkara

Applying Restrictive Practice to Tenkara

I don’t fish much in the winter. It’s not that I dislike it: within reason of course —I’m not trying to be Earnest Shackleton. (By the way, if you’re looking for a good winter book to read, South by Earnest Shackleton is fantastic and it will make you so grateful that you’re not a stranded Antarctic explorer living on penguin meat.)

Mostly, my lack of winter fishing has to do with economics, geography and space-time. Short days, long driving distances and that cost-benefit analysis between the cost and transit time vs. time on the water. When I do manage to get out in colder weather I usually enjoy myself –>> Limestone Stream Winter Fixed Line Nymphing by Anthony Naples

In lieu of fishing, in the winter, I spend a lot of time over-thinking what I want to do in the upcoming season. New places I want to go, old places I want to re-visit, new gear to try, old gear to re-visit, new-rigging systems, new flies, new water types to learn to fish…

And one idea that has been haunting me this winter is the idea of Restrictive Practice.

Restrictive Practice?

Driving to the Wisconsin Driftless this September to hang with Matt Sment I listened to a guitar podcast that discussed this idea of restrictive practice. The basic premise is that you restrict yourself in order to break habits and develop skills. In the case of guitar you could limit yourself to specific rhythmic patterns, scales, chord tones, note duration, etc.

By restricting your bag of tricks during a practice session you force yourself to be more creative with the tools that remain. It hones your focus and opens new avenues of expression that can be incorporated into your regular playing.

Applying Restrictive Practice to Tenkara

So what’s this mean for me as an angler? Let’s take look at some ideas to apply the concept to tenkara. What types of things can we restrict?

Line Length

This one’s a freebie. As a tenkara angler you’re already benefiting from restrictive practice in the form of fixed line length. If you came to tenkara from rod-and-reel fly fishing you’ve probably noticed this benefit in practice already. A perceived “downside” of tenkara is that fixed-line length. And for sure, there are times when we all wish we could change line length easily. But at the end of the day the fixed line has made us better anglers.

The fixed-line length has very practical benefits such as reigning in the angler’s natural desire to keep casing further and further. Those distance casts have their place but very often they are detrimental and cause us to spook fish that we cast over.

The fixed-line of tenkara forces the angler to examine the river carefully plan her next cast before simply feeding out more line. Hopefully this makes you look at the water more carefully and cast to all possible lies that are near to you rather than just lengthening casts; perhaps you cast to that shallow water by the bank, or take a few more shots at that spot behind the boulder until you get it just right, or maybe you try the riffle or the tail of the pool instead of just shooting line to the meaty head of the pool. You are learning more about where fish live and feed. You’re getting better at wading carefully and silently. You’re getting more accurate with your casts. You’re learning to carefully sequence your approach. Thank you fixed-line length.

And if you are an angler that goes back and forth between tenkara and rod-and-reel you can easily apply the stuff you learned from using a fixed line to your regular fly fishing.


To be completely honest I’m not sure what the cool tenkara kids are talking about these days, but back in my day we used to talk a lot about “one-fly” tenkara.

If you’re not at all familiar with concept it’s simply the idea that you have one fly pattern that you fish day in and day out. Doing a one-fly season or at least doing one-fly outings can open do a world of good toward upping your game.

Restrictive Practice Tenkara - Anthony Naples - Tenkara Angler - Kebari

If you constantly change flies you will inevitably catch fish and perhaps quite erroneously assume that it was the fly change that made the difference. What you’re perhaps missing are the other things that have changed. By keeping the fly the same you can focus on reading the water, your presentation, your stealth, etc. Once you let go of the anxiety of changing flies you’ll start to see all of the other factors more clearly.

Another less restrictive way to look at restrictive fly practice is to pick a style that is not your usual and stick with that. Say you’re a dry fly guy then spend a few sessions fishing wet flies or nymphs. Or if you’re a futsu kebari guy give sakasa kebari some quality time. Or maybe try a streamer or leech.

Mixing up your routine can be a great way to inspire and kickstart learning. By sticking with a particular style of fly for a while you may start to see patterns in fish holding behavior that you’d miss if you were continually changing flies. I personally need to tie some futsu kebari and spend a month or so fishing them to gain skill and confidence with them. It’s a style of fly that I haven’t yet bonded with and yet I know many folks love to use them.

The point is that by sticking to one-fly you’ll spend time exploring different presentations, looking for different fish lies and water types, casting to those tough spots and focus on stealth. But you have to be earnest and really stick with it for the full benefit.

Here’s a post from my Casting Around blog that tells a tale of doing some restrictive practice and a lesson learned –>>Spring Creek,Takayama Sakasa Kebari, score one for technique, and noodles. And a while back I wrote a guest post for Tenkara Angler called Break Out of the Tenkara Box that touches on the idea of changing things up for inspiration.


You can fish actively with fly manipulation, dead drift , upstream, downstream, deep, shallow, dry fly, wet fly, etc. Each of these presentation styles takes practice and experience to establish competence. When attempting to add new techniques to your fishing tool box instant success is seldom guaranteed. After trying it in a few pools without success, it’s easy to say “This wet fly swing isn’t working” so you switch back to your trusted dead drift. But if you restrict yourself that new technique all month, or maybe make a deal with yourself and restrict to the new technique every time out for the first half of the day, you’ll start to get creative and see results. Patience is indeed a virtue.

When dealing with techniques you’ll probably find that different presentation styles will work better in different water types. These water types may be different than you’re used to fishing. So restricting yourself to a single presentation style will prompt you to look at different water types in different ways.

Get some inspiration on various Japanese tenkara presentations from Dr. Ishigaki in this post and video: Downstream Tenkara Sasoi Manipulations. I know I need to spend some restrictive practice sessions with these techniques to fortify my confidence.

Water Type

This is one type of restrictive practice that I’ve spent a lot of time with over the last few seasons. I was out with Josh Miller of Trout Yeah! Guide Service a few years back and he made a comment about that dead looking, flat water on a spring creek that we were fishing being one of his favorite types of water to fish. It was the kind of water that I always walked right past. I made a promise to myself that I was going to learn how to fish that water. I got some tips from Josh then and later went out with George Daniel to focus on this challenging fishing.

Restrictive Practice Tenkara - Anthony Naples - Tenkara Angler - Flat Water

That season and the next few I really focused on that kind of water. Instead of walking past it I walked to it and passed up all the pocket water, riffles and runs. I looked for smooth, placid flat water and the edges of the streams where the water wasn’t moving. Eventually I had some success. But It took restrictive practice to make it work. I devoted entire days to it and stuck with it. That’s what it took. I had to abandon what came easy and challenge myself, restricting myself to that water type.

In the process I became a better caster and a more patient angler. I learned a lot about where fish hang out on the spring creeks that I love fishing; often in very surprising locations right next to the bank in shallow still water.

So maybe you always head to mid-depth runs, or pocket water, or the head of plunge pools. If you force yourself to focus on other types of water, you will expand your fishing opportunities and knowledge.

Restrictive Practice Tenkara - Anthony Naples - Tenkara Angler - Brown Trout

Be Patient and Creative

Of course you can come up with lots of other ways to do restrictive practice, the things I bring up are just some jumping off points. The short story is that if you force yourself to try new things you’ll become a better angler. But you have to be earnest. You need to put the time in. You need to be patient and you need to be creative. But in the and, you’ll learn a lot and you’ll improve by adding more tools to your toolbox.

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    1. Thanks Dave! I spend way too much time thinking. Though quantity doesn’t always mean quality 😳

  1. Anthony, my two “home water” spring creeks on the eastern edge of the WI driftless have a lot of that slow, flat water you describe at the end of your article – both shallow and deep, doubling the challenge. Since I’ll probably never have the chance to get out with Josh or George, I have two favors to ask… 1. Can you point me to any resources that dive into fishing this type of water. 2. Would you write an article with a little depth on it soon? Thank you!! Always love your stuff. I’m a big fan of restrictive practices. They’re not easy, but rewarding.

    1. Good to hear from you Jeff! So, the biggest rigging related idea that helped me fish that kind of water was the idea of “floating the sighter”. It’s sensitive and stealthy way to suspend small nymphs. Dry-dropper can work too, but the technique of floating the sighter was key to more success for me. Aside from that rigging change, another key component was just knowing that fish were there and having the confidence that I had a technique to fish for them successfully. I think before I put in the time, I’d dabble with that kind of water, have no success and give up. If you search on YouTube for “floating the sighter” you’ll find some good videos. Both Josh and George have videos on the topic. I definitely add the “bunny ears” when I do it, otherwise I have a hard time seeing the sighter on the water. So the videos are obviously not tenkara videos, but you can easily adapt the method.

  2. I’ve been making the case that my fly-fishing has improved overall because of the limits of the fixed line for 10 years now. It mostly inspires hoots of derision. Which is fine, I’ll just go catch some more fish.

    1. Well, if they’re laughing at that idea it’s their loss. Because I know, like you say, that my regular fly fishing skills have gotten much better since I began fishing with fixed-line gear.

  3. Great article. Having been Tenkara fishing for a few years now, with over 130 trips, this is much more meaningful to me than when I began. Very enjoyable and will absolutely affect my Tenkara experiences this year.

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