Tenkara Newbie Needs Some Help

Hello everyone. I’ve dipped my toes into the world of Tenkara, and after a somewhat uninspiring first trout experience, I’m hoping that some of you might be able to share some insight and suggestions. I apologize in advance for this being so long.

Just by way of background, I’d consider myself on the experienced end of western fly fishing having worked guided and fished extensively. I more or less understand what I’m trying to accomplish and how to catch fish. That being said, I’ve purposefully avoided euro nymphing as part of my western fly experience. Tight line nymphing? Sure.

I researched Tenkara extensively after being given a TUSA Sato by a friend, and am sold on Tenkara on a conceptual level. I love the simplicity and practicality of it. Implementation however…

Gear I was using: TUSA Sato at full extension, 3.5 level fluorocarbon line matching length of the rod, 4 feet of 4x tippet, Kebari style flies fished wet as well as traditional weighted nymphs.

The river in Maryland I was fishing was roughly 25 feet across and while technically a tailwater, fishes like a freestone.

All of the description below is describing fishing across current while attempting to dead drift, and not straight upstream or swinging down.

Issue 1: Line Drape

It took me a few minutes on the river to overcome my inclination to purposefully deliver flies with slack in the line, but I eventually realized that casts needed positive turnover and to be delivered more or less tight. Once I switched my casting style I started to feel like I was “fishing,” but I was continually frustrated by the weight of the line dragging the fly back toward me.

I’ve read descriptions of Kebari style flies “gripping” the water and feeling in contact with them. I very much did not experience this, and continually felt the weight of the line was dragging the fly back toward me over the course of the drift.

I did not expect to have this be so problematic and was part of the reason I had chosen a level line. I didn’t do this as it seemed contrary to the purpose of fishing Tenkara, but I had the impression that I needed an indicator to help anchor the fly through the drift. Weighted nymphs seemed to drag a little less, but still seemed unacceptable.

Issue 2: If a fish ate my fly I would have no idea.

I have relatively good vision, but fishing at this range there is absolutely no way I would have known if a fish had taken my fly. Am I supposed to be watching the tippet/line connection? If so, I feel like 4 feet of tippet is too much to provide adequate sensitivity.


Is my line too long?

Is my tippet too long?

Is Tenkara not a great choice for extended dead drifts to search for fish?

Should I focus on quarter down streaming where I’ll be able to feel takes on a swing?

Is this just the way it is?

What am I doing wrong?

I’m wholly sold on the concept of Tenkara, but in all candor, this felt like a really compromised way to deliver a fly in comparison to a western setup. I’d like to have the lightbulb moment and make this work, and I’d love any help you could provide.


Hi Ian. Try doing what I do - fish with Dry Fly Patterns. You will be able to see if you are getting Drag Free Drifts, and you will be able to see the fish take the fly, which works best if you are fishing Upstream. Hold all the colored level line up and off of the water and as much of the tippet as you can manage as well. Use a shorter and lighter weight tippet -5X or less. Stop your forward cast @ 11:00 to get the right line angle and gentle presentations. After you become proficient with dry flies, try fishing wets and nymphs again with a better understanding of the rod and line angles it takes to get the best results…Karl.


Thanks Karl, that’s great advice. I’ll try dries next time and report my results.

I think it’s difficult to troubleshoot and make great suggestions here on your technique. What I would suggest is hiring an experienced guide or getting on a local Tenkara group if you have one in your area and see if you can meet up with some more experienced folks to learn from. I’ve read books and watched a lot of Tenkara videos (Discover Tenkara, Tenkara on the trail, Tenkara addict, TenkaraFromJapan, many others on Youtube), however going fishing with a guide or taking a class (Oni School from Tenkara Guides) really accelerates the learning process.

There are also meetups around the country that you can travel to. Those can be invaluable since you can get exposure to many different Tenkara styles. There are many styles to try, from more traditional Japanese styles with Kebari, to tight line nymphing and using dry flies similar to the western fly fishing styles.


Hi Ian, try not to overreach when casting, keep your level line no longer than the rod to begin with about 4ft of tippet. So total length of line with tippet on a sato at full extension would be 17ft. Try to make an equilateral triangle with the rod and line. With practice you can get the kebari to stick in the surface with all the level line and most of the tippet off the water, you can also sink the kebari below the surface. You should easily see the take if you fish this way, it will be like a dry fly rise if the fly is on the surface, if it’s below you’ll see the line move.


I second the comment to not over reach. It’s easy to think that with 30’ of combined rod + line + tippet you should be fishing 30’ away, but that’s just not the case. The fact that you felt that the weight of the line was dragging the fly back to you is pretty much proof that you were over reaching. Think of fishing maybe 15’-18’ or so away from your feet, with your current setup. Maybe a little bit further. As well, maybe see if you can get away with #3 line.

As to whether or not you can see when a fish eats, I’d think that your tight line nymphing experience should help you there. Unless you were nymphing by feel, and not by sight. Lift on any hesitation of the line/tippet junction. Watch it like a hawk eyeing movement in the grass right below it.


Thanks Chris. You bring up a good point that it’s probably worthwhile seeking out someone who’s been doing it for a while. There’s probably some hubris on my part of thinking that if I can feed a permit a fly that this would require no effort in comparison. Obviously not.


Thanks Paul and Scott. I think this might be a lot of my issue. In an effort to prevent line drape I was almost certainly fishing the line off farther than I should, and unknowingly making the issue worse.

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An experience I had is when I went to Oni School I decided I would go in and try to forget everything I’d learned about Tenkara to that point and approach it as a complete beginner. I had been experimenting with it for some time and could catch fish. It was a real eye opener as I learned the Oni style of Tenkara. Where if I went in without the learners brain I think I would’ve missed out on the great teaching.

I tend to shut off the learning side of my brain and fall into the I already know a way of doing this and just want to fish mode. I think when you’re experienced at something or the adjacent skills it’s easier to fall into that trap.


I think your set up is fine.

Over extending your “reach” as others pointed out is often a big thing to change coming from western line on the water fishing to tenkara. The picture of the triangle I am trying to attach should help. Hopefully you can see it. Getting this down to understand your range is key. Then wade into position to make it work.

There will be drape to the line. If fishing an unweighted wet fly below the surface keep your eyes on the connection point of the level line to tippet and keep that point off the water. Set the hook when you see an odd movement there, a stop or the drape removed from the line…that is sort of your indicator and very much like tightline nymphing. The vision comment you made confuses me…typically in Tenkara you are fishing much closer than western…how did you detect sub-surface strikes on a western rig when fishing without an indicator or without a dry dropper rig?

Where to cast and how long to drift depends on a lot. If the line drape is pulling you out of where you want the fly to stay or the lane you want it in then you do need to move closer, change angle of approach or accept the fact that you will have quick drifts.

Where I think tenkara excels though is in pinpoint casts with short drifts in complex currents picking apart the likely holding spots AND in manipulating the fly…giving it life. Maybe try to fish types of water you felt hard with a western rig and line on the water?

The “gripping” style of fly is a stiff hackle wet fly…what the Japanese call Futsu Kebari…you can google all sorts of stuff on that.

If you can fish with another angler who has been doing it longer that can also help.

Lastly, stick with it…you will get the hang of it and then you can see if it becomes a passion or just another tool in your bag of tricks.



You have come to the right spot. There are so many great tenkara anglers here to help you. Whenever you have a problem just ask (post). The guys above gave you excellent information.
I will add my 2 cents; when you get your line stuck in a branch/bush DO NOT pull on it with the
rod. This will not turn out good. Slowly fold up the rod, grab the line, and pull on the line only. I
broke several rods being stupid. It is not like western fly fishing where you can get away with this
action. Also the first 3 sections (at the top) are very sensitive to impact such as tree limbs, etc…
I leaned this the hard way too. Make sure when you cast there is plenty of room. I use 7’3" to 9’0"
fly rods and was not expecting the 10.5 to 14 ft. rods and how much clearance you needed to cast.
The very best of luck in tenkara and I hope you will visit often. There is a lot of information here
for you to use. :wolf:


Is my line too long? - No.

Is my tippet too long? - No.

Is Tenkara not a great choice for extended dead drifts to search for fish? Actually, it isn’t. As much as the tenkara community talks of dead drifts, gravity’s a bitch and you absolutely cannot achieve a perfect dead drift as long as your rod tip is up (as it should be) and your level line is in the air (as it should be). Gravity will pull your line down and that will pull your fly towards a spot directly under the rod tip. Tenkara is a wonderful method for managing what your fly is doing relative to the water around it, understanding that it will always be moving relative to the water around it - even if you cast directly upstream and raise the rod as the fly drifts down towards you, because gravity still pulls the line down, ensuring that the fly is pulled downstream at least a little faster than the current. That constant motion is the basic underlying reason why tenkara is primarily a wet fly technique. Real flies on the surface drift at the same speed as the current. Things in the water, under the surface, move, swim or wriggle. Wet flies, fished under the surface can move relative to the water around them and not scare the fish. The gentle pulses you will often see experienced tenkara anglers do is actually called something like the “invitation” in Japanese, as it invites or entices the fish to take. Also, you will likely learn that shorter drifts - 3 to 4 seconds - will produce more strikes than trying to achieve long drag free drifts. Search out and watch videos of Masami Sakakibara AKA Tenkara no Oni. You will see either very short drifts or cast, pulse, pulse, pulse, pick up for new cast. When he fishes directly downstream, either pulsing his fly or skating it on the surface, he will leave it in the water a bit longer. You will never see him try to achieve a 20 foot dead drift.

Should I focus on quarter down streaming where I’ll be able to feel takes on a swing? No. If you try to fish by feel you will miss most strikes. Tenkara fishing is visual. Concentrate on two things: 1) the end of the level line, which will hesitate, twitch or move sideways when a fish takes 2) the amount of line sag, which will change when a fish takes. Also, keep aware of about where your fly is because sometimes you will see a flash as a fish takes the fly. If you fish downstream, it is much harder to notice line twitch or changes in the amount of line sag. Besides, your line plus tippet is short enough that the fish are likely to see you, making them much less likely to take your fly. That is not to say you should never fish across and down, or even straight downstream, but you should not ignore upstream or up and across.

Is this just the way it is? Physics is the way it is, and there is nothing you can do to overcome it. However, you can learn to control the fly’s motion so that it looks alive - which should add to its attraction.

What am I doing wrong? Trying to fish as you do with a fly rod, reel and line using a tenkara rod instead. It is a completely different way of fishing.

I’m wholly sold on the concept of Tenkara, but in all candor, this felt like a really compromised way to deliver a fly in comparison to a western setup. I’d like to have the lightbulb moment and make this work, and I’d love any help you could provide. The lightbulb moment will come when you realize that tenkara fishing is not just delivering the fly and waiting for either a fish to hit or the drifts to extend as far as possible. It is making your fly do things that are difficult or impossible to do with conventional fly gear.


Hi Chris,

There’s a lot for me to unpack in your reply. Thank you for such a thoughtful response. The part I quoted above seems to be the crux of the issue.

I’m sure everyone comes into Tenkara in their own way, and probably ends up in their own place. I clearly didn’t encounter this message articulated so well, or if I did, didn’t understand the significance of it.

My next outing will be with some greater thought in how I approach the water.


I agree with all the beats shared with emphasis on @CM_Stewart 's notes.

The broad strokes:
There are common misconceptions about tenkara. It is nymph fishing but not by the western flyfishing definition.
It is best to try to wash away what you think tenkara is. Try not to lean on any of your past experience as @cc121 notes. Easier said than done as it takes tremendous discipline.

Study it new. Consider Tenkara as a new book for presenting a fly…like Chris Stewart notes.

There is a bit that may be chicken before the egg. I personally feel that it might be hard to find a guide to help you on your journey. Even in this forum there is a mix of perspectives and approaches.

Tenkara was founded/developed to harvest fish in high gradient mountain streams. So if you dissect what that could mean for the engineering and utility, it can translate to fast moving water and lots of structure, and fish that need to make a quick decision to eat. Short drifts and capitalizing on presentations that can animate a fly. A dead drift in any turbulent water…results in an animated fly. Even a slow pool has current and turbulence. Embellishment is also animation. Nymphs move…

I personally feel the further we move from that origin in application the less we actually benefit from its engineering. When I say engineering. I am bundling the equipment, techniques, and philosophy together.

Line drape
So many folk get talking about drape and drag. Some get real serious about it. If I want to minimize drag on the fly…I will put a couple inches of my running line on the water and allow the tippet to move freely. Those couple inches can function as an indicator. I use spiderwire, which also floats and it I wanted to…it would accept floatant, but I never apply any…sometimes I let the current pull the line deep if it is a deep pocket.

Most of my fish in the last few years are not dead drift fish…so drape is less of a factor. For me it is a dance of slack and tension.

These days I almost exclusively fish a futsu style fly. Basically it is a dry pattern like an adams but fished in the full water column.
This is a long thread. …but covers my thoughts on it.


I started tying patterns with a combo of a soft hackle like partridge since I like that look and then add on a stiff hackle to get the functionality I want. That particular pattern in a variety of imitations has been a lot of fun to fish and fits my style well.


These days I almost exclusively fish a futsu style fly. Basically it is a dry pattern like an adams but fished in the full water column. - I think it is import to note that a futsu fly is like a dry fly except it does not have wings, does not have a tail, and is not treated with flotant.


I guess I assumed those details would be obvious. Really, I would fish an adams as is in a pinch. I dont believe the wing or the tail make any difference to the trout or to how I fish a futsu. All the utility is in the stiff hackle and the general size of the fly.


Obvious to you and me, but not to a beginner. The tail will tend to support the fly in the meniscus. Without the tail the hook will pull the fly down much easier.


Here is a video showing what is possible with a Foam Dry Fly on Tenkara Tackle:


Tenkara Addict on YouTube

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