How to Fish Tenkara

Don't be intimidated by the name. This Japanese method of fly fishing is incredibly simple
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Aug 29, 2015 | By Kylie Turley

implify, simplify, simplify, my mother always said. If there’s room to simplify, I’ll go for it — especially when it comes to fishing. Having grown up with a deep love for the outdoors, fishing has been a favorite pastime in my family for many generations; summer days of my adolescence were spent watching intensely for a flick of my bobber in the mountain lakes of Idaho or dropping a line on the river with my grandpa and brothers. It’s in the simple things that I found, and still find, the greatest pleasure. Fishing is an uncomplicated invitation to relax and appreciate nature in its most raw form — which is what makes tenkara so natural.


For those who might find it intimidating to take on a new hobby like fly fishing, tenkara is a simple way to go. Originating in Japan at least 200 years ago, this traditional method is especially popular in mountain streams and fresh mountain rivers, and all it requires is a rod, a line, and a fly. And if you take a few minutes to learn the basics, you'll be earning an opportunity to spend an entire day taking in the views as you catch a few trout. Follow these simple steps and you'll be well on your way. 

First, loop the end of the line over itself to make a loop. Then, slip the loop over the lillian and pull the line tight up against your knot. See it in action here.

Connecting the tippet to your tenkara line can be done using a simple clinch knot. First, find the alloy tippet ring at the end of your line then pull out about three to four feet of tippet. Put around three inches of tippet through the ring, and hold the ring and tippet in one hand while twisting the end of the tippet around itself six or seven times. Then, slide the end of your tippet right above your tippet ring and pull tight. See it in action here.

You can attach a fly to your tippet using the same clinch knot you used to tie your tippet to your line. First, insert about three inches of the tippet through the ring on your fly. Holding your fly and tippet with two fingers and one hand, wrap the end of your tippet around itself six or seven times. Then, slide the end of your tippet through the loop right above the ring on your fly and pull tight. See it in action here.

Take off the rod cap and put it somewhere safe. Then find the tip section and pull each section out individually, starting with the top. Make sure the sections are not too tight. It is important that you extend your tenkara rod delicately and the correct way to avoid jamming the sections or snapping your rod. See it in action here.

Casting with a tenkara rod is easy to learn. Bring it up to 12 o’clock, then bring it to about three o’clock and let the line and fly fall to your spot. Cast delicately, because it’s a fixed line and you want the fly to land like a bug lands. Emulate insects to trick the fish. See it in action here

Pulling a fish in is the most fun and rewarding part of tenkara, besides being in the beautiful outdoors. When a fish strikes, set the hook by pulling the rod straight up. Then guide the fish out of the fast water into slower moving water so that it’s easier to control. Pull the fish along the top of the water until you get close enough to grab the line. If you have a net, it is best to net the fish. If not, wet your hands and gently grab the fish. Remove the fly, and release the fish back into the water. Tenkara anglers embrace the catch and release practice in an effort to conserve the life cycle of the fish and their place in the ecosystem. Let them go, let them grow. See it in action here.

Kylie Turley is known to bring a box of Good & Plenty to the fishing hole and quite likely to take a spill.
She’ll cast until she catches, and is nothing but smiles on the river.
 Find her on Instagram and check out her portfolio.

Images ©: Kylie Turley. Illustrations ©: Nicole Varvitsiotes. Videos ©: Spencer Turley for Tenkara Rod Co.