In tenkara (and regular fly fishing for that matter) wind is a challenge. In the extreme it can be a real spoiler but at reasonable levels there are some tactics that one can employ to combat the wind and save the day.
Let me just say right now, I don’t encounter strong winds too often where I fish. So, I’m no expert when it comes to this area. But a recent windy trip got me thinking about the subject so I figured I’d share what I can and then also tap into the knowledge of some friends. After all, Tenkara Angler was founded on the idea of presenting the thoughts and experiences of the tenkara community at large.
With that in mind, this article is by no means intended to be the last word on the topic of tenkara tactics for wind, but in fact quite the opposite. I’m hoping that anglers that deal with windy conditions will share their experiences in the comments below.
The Problem with Wind?
Wind presents two primary challenges to the tenkara angler: Casting and Anchoring. It’s simply tough, and sometimes nearly impossible to cast light tenkara lines and unweighted flies into the wind. And the anchoring problem is that even when you manage to get a cast out the wind can rip your tippet and fly right out of the water.
Different tactics will address these two issues (and sometimes both).
Lets See What Some Folks Have to Say…
John Geer, Tenkara USA
If I can, I prefer to have the wind at my back or with my casting arm on the downwind side, but the line can still “kite” like that. Usually, when I fish in the wind, I end up leaving some of my casting line in the water to help anchor it. I try to leave as little line down as possible, but the windier it is the more that needs to stay in the water. On really windy days, I’ll just fish with a low rod tip and do mostly tight line or active presentations so I’m more likely to feel the fish strike. If the wind is gusting, as it often is here, I’ll try to be patient and wait for a lull to cast.
John Pearson, Discover Tenkara
Most people tend to go heavy with their casting line when dealing with wind but this can bring as many problems as it solves. The extra surface area can be a liability, catching the wind like a sail during the drift. Something I’ve taught to many students from beginner to advanced is the use of a light line (#2.5 or #3.0) with a bead head stiff hackle kebari (see picture).
Let me make it very clear here… the bead is NOT intended to help the fly sink. It acts as a counter to the wind during the cast and helps anchor the fly during the drift. It’s totally possible to fish a 2.5mm tungsten bead kebari of this style right at the surface for the whole drift. The stiff hackle helps stop the fly zipping back towards you as a simple bead head nymph would, while the weight helps stop the fly lifting off the surface if the line does catch the wind.
Accurate casting is a breeze (pardon the pun) as the weight of the bead, coupled with light level line, really punches through the wind. For me, the sweet spot is 2.5mm tungsten bead with #2.5 level fluorocarbon line around the length of the rod with about 40” of tippet.
There are a multitude of other (more advanced) skills that can be employed, but this one will get anyone (with the basics already under their belt) fishing effectively on a windy day. 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.
Thanks for reaching out to me about the “w” word! Here a couple of tips I like to pass along to my clients, and ones I use all the time.
My Tactical Tenkara Nymphing Line makes casting in the wind easier because of its weight-forward design. I don’t nymph with any other line, wind or no wind. When it’s windy, I like to cast at a quartering angle upstream, and drift at a quartering upstream angle. This keeps the wind from grabbing my line as much as a cast directly across.
I also like to lower my rod tip a bit to keep the line more low profile in relation to the wind. When it’s really windy, my rod tip ends up about shoulder to head high. Not ideal, but it works much better than having the rod tip higher and allowing more line to be exposed to the wind.
I will switch to heavier nymphs when it’s windy… less likely for the wind to move them unnaturally during the drift. I will also switch over to buggier nymph patterns that have more surface area to reduce how much they are affected by bad drifts caused by wind movement in the rod and line.
My Tenkara Floating Lines (TFL) are .026” diameter…pretty thin. I also have some .028” diameter TFLs that have quite a bit more surface area and they stick to the film better, so I will switch over to the thicker and heavier floating line when it’s windy. I’ll lay more line on the water and let the surface film anchor it to keep it from blowing off the water and/or jeopardizing the drift. The heavier floating line also casts better in the wind.
Again, I’ll lower my rod tip to keep the line out of the wind. When it’s gusty I’ll just wait a gust out, and then cast when it stops.
Brent Auger, DRAGONtail Tenkara
I think the biggest thing for casting in windy conditions is not to have a super soft rod or a really long rod (12 foot or shorter seems to be best). Keeping your cast to a side cast seems to help as well.
Jason Sparks, Tenkara Angler
When in open areas where wind affects my cast, I do three things. I swap between them and combine them through the outing. I am constantly and subconsciously evaluating the conditions for wind speed and direction.
- Drop my casting plane angle to near horizontal to keep the rod and line low on the airspace. If the surrounding landscape permits this. It is the quickest way to defeat wind.
- Cast downwind. Positioning yourself to cast across the wind at 90 deg. instead of into the wind, adjusting that to downwind where needed. I let wind direction, waterway shape, my standing location and brush/canopy help feed those calculations.
- Change line weight. I do 1 & 2 first, but if needed, a heavier line like #4 or #4.5 can make a difference. The PVC lines can have enough mass to cast in windy conditions as well. True, heavier lines get thicker causing more resistance. In my experience, my casting force and the line weight defeats the air resistance better than a thin line with less mass.
Some Additional Thoughts
There is plenty to take from the advice above and I’ll add some thoughts and bring it all together.
Like John Geer and Jason Sparks mention a change in tactics may be all you need to try. If I can avoid changing gear and just change my approach then that’s the first thing I’ll do. Usually when presented with windy conditions my first thought is to try more active fly tactics, dead-drifts may be completely off the table. Wind direction will dictate whether I’m fishing up, down, or across. I’ll cast with the wind, drop the rod tip and anchor the cast with line on the water as needed and fish an active presentation. The wind is likely to be moving the fly anyway, so you can be proactive and try to manipulate it in the most productive ways that you can, focusing on likely spots that a pulsed or cross-current swinging fly might attract some fishy attention.
A favorite place of mine to try this is at the heads of deeper pools and in pocket water. If conditions allow me to position myself above a pool or some pockets and fish a wet-fly into the pool and across it then that can be very productive at times. An across stream swing might be killer, or maybe pulsing the fly back upstream. Get creative with your active presentation and try different speeds and drifts until you find something that interests the fish. These more active presentations may not always work, but when they do it’s a blast.
As just about everyone above mentioned anchoring is likely to be key. And again this is something that you may be able to achieve without any gear or rigging changes. This can be as simple as giving up on the idea of fishing with the line off off the water. You may need to lay some or most of the line on the water. You’ll likely have to cast with the wind or time you casts when there isn’t a gust. And then lay the line in or on the water to keep it from blowing away again.
Also, as Paul Vertrees and John Pearson mention, heavier flies can help with both the casting and the anchoring, and that’s a nice easy thing to try.
If fish aren’t willing to move and take active presentations larger cork “bobber-style” strike indicators may be a good anchoring option for drifting flies. Using an indicator in combination with line on the surface can be a productive way to fish nymphs in windy conditions. This is certainly far outside true tenkara style fishing but it can be a good option if it’s windy and fish aren’t moving to flies, such as in cold conditions or even on tailwaters or spring creeks.
A line change usually isn’t my first choice, unless I know I’ll be fishing in the wind. I’d much rather just try tactics that don’t require a complete line change. But sometimes a change of line may be just want you need for a productive time on the water.
If you want to stick with a standard tenkara level line John Pearson recommends actually going to a slimmer line such as a #2.5 in combination with that bead-head stiff hackle kebari for anchoring. I definitely need to try this. I haven’t tried that particular combination before.
Paul Vertrees mentions his Tactical Nymphing Line, which is a fluorocarbon weight forward design. This is another option I haven’t tried in the wind, but I’ve got one now, so I’ll definitely do that.
Tenkara lines made from, or in the style of western fly fishing PVC fly lines are a good option. They are much heavier than fluorocarbon level lines and you’ll generally be fishing with much more line on the water, which is okay in the case of trying to battle windy conditions. You can make your own of course by buying a cheap light-weight double taper fly line (try a 1 WT or 2WT). Double taper fly lines are symmetrical so you can make a line out of each half of the line. You can also make level PVC lines from Euro-nymphing lines such as Level Cortland Mono Core or Braided Core line. Lines made from the nymphing line will generally be lighter than those made from a double taper fly line.
Tenkara PVC lines are of course available commercially too. Tenkara Tanuki makes a tapered floating line and it’s available in different lengths as does DRAGONtail and Paul Vertrees at Royal Gorge Anglers. You can get level PVC lines (similar to the euro-nymphing line) from Tanuki Tenkara, TAO and DRAGONtail Tenkara. Karin Miller at Zen Tenkara developed an eco-friendly, 100% recyclable all purpose floating line as well.
Also, some heavier furled lines such as the Tenkara USA Furled line can be easier to cast and fish in windy conditions than level lines. And check out Brent Auger’s comments above for links to the furled lines that he recommends. DRAGONtail has some interesting and unique furled line offerings.
As Brent Auger mentioned a super windy day is probably not the best day for that full-flex soft rod. Especially if you’ll be using heavier lines and flies. And also he makes a good point about going to a shorter rod. Wind resistance on the rod itself can be significant in windy conditions and can make casting a chore. So it’s a good time to use that shorter rod, or if you’ve got a zoom rod go to a shorter length.
What Are Your Favorite Tactics for Windy Conditions ?
As I said in the beginning this article is also meant to be a jumping off point for people to share their experience and advice. So please let us know how you deal with wind in the comments below.
PHOTO CREDIT FOR TITLE PHOTO: Windswept Hawthorn at Beachy Head by Don Cload. Used under the This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License. Edits made by Anthony Naples
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