I believe I first heard about the Tenkara style of fly fishing on HammockForums.net a forum that I frequent which is all about hammocks and more specifically, hammock camping, where instead of a tent you use a hammock. One of the reasons people switch to hammocks, is they tend to be lighter then using a traditional tent. My goal of taking less out to the woods, led me to hammocks, which in turn led me to find Tenkara.
I love to fish, always have, in fact, when I was a kid I once dreamed of becoming a professional fisherman. My life went down a different path but the love of fishing has never left me. A few years ago I lived in the ‘tri-city’ area, or for those not from Ontario, Kitchener-Waterloo. Flowing through these cities is the Grand River, which just happens to be a world-class brown trout fishery. While I was living and working in the area, I decided to take up fly fishing because that’s just what you did in the area. There were no lakes within a reasonable driving distance (or well, no lakes with good fishing!) so you turned to the fly rod. I signed up for a beginners lesson and got out on the stream, I did great at the lesson (I’m a fast learner), bought all the gear (even bought fly tying equipment) and heading off to the stream myself. Unfortunately although a quick learner I am also a little hasty sometimes and never did take the time to learn how to present the fly properly. I never ended up having very good success. The largest and most fish I caught on the fly rod were carp sitting at the bottom of a pool in the river. (was fishing a bead headed nymph). I ended up putting the fly rod away and went back to “normal” fishing especially once when we moved up to where we are now. We are surrounded by lakes filled with Bass, Pike, Walleye etc.
Fast forward a few years, and here I am trying to go ‘lightweight’ when hiking, paddling and spending time out in the woods. I tend to read a lot about what interests me and during one of my ‘research sessions’ I came across a type of fishing that seemed tailor made for backpacking. Tenkara fishing uses a collapsible rod, that only weights a few ounces. It does not require a reel, uses flies (who’s weight is negligible) and only requires you to bring a minimum of one length of line (which is usually the length of the rod). What this means is you can have a full fishing setup that weighs as little as 5 ounces! The more research I did the more I realized this was a simplified way of fishing, and it was exactly what I’ve been looking for when backpacking. I jumped right in and ordered a 12′ Iwana rod from TenkaraUSA.com. The reason I went with this rod is I figured it would be able to handle fish from both small rivers and lakes. We have no mountains around here, (Tenkara evolved around small mountain streams) but we have a lot of lakes and quite a few rivers. I wanted a rod that had a bit more backbone and could handle a variety of fish. I also picked up a traditional line as well as a level line to go with the rod.
Before the rod arrived, I dug out my old fly tying kit and started tying some traditional style Tenkara flies called Sakasa Kebari. These flies are very simple to tie and differ from most western flies by having a reverse hackle (the feather around the body faces forward instead of back). When the Iwana arrived there was a bit of an issue with the shipping carrier, but one quick email to TenkaraUSA and everything was sorted out. I have to hand it to them, they really do care about their customers and service is top notch.
So far the rod has been great, I took it outside and was able to perform great (not perfect, but very good) casts within 10 minutes of using the rod. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get precise casts compared to western fly fishing setups. I have been out twice since then, and will be heading out again this week. I’ll have another post to go over my thoughts on these outings. I believe Tenkara is an ideal solution for those wanting to carry fishing gear while backpacking, as well as for anyone who wants an easy way to start fly fishing. Stay tuned for more information on Tenkara, and if you have any thoughts on it, please share in the comments section below.