Tenkara fishing: Fly fishing the simple way

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Calming. According to Frank Young, a junior from Springville, Utah, that’s what fishing should be. As a frequent fisherman on the Provo River, Young enjoys the opportunity to get out of the house and relax to cast his fly line. What’s interesting is Young doesn’t use your typical rod and reel. He prefers using a traditional Japanese fly fishing rod called a tenkara rod.

According to several sites that sell the rods, tenkara (which means “from heaven” or “from the skies”) is a Japanese fishing style that consists of using an 11–15-foot rod and fixed line (or a line without a reel) in fast-moving water.

“It provides a different challenge,” Young said. “When I catch a fish, I can’t reel it in right away. I have to fight it, hold it, be more strategical with the line.”

1. Frank Young casts a fly into a nearby eddy with his  tenkara rod 2. Frank Young casts a fly on the Provo River with his tenkara rod Photo Credit. Caleb Beazel
Frank Young casts a fly on the Provo River with his tenkara rod.
(Caleb Beazel)

Along with being applauded as being more simple than typical fly fishing and offering a different challenge, there are many other benefits to fishing tenkara-style in Utah, according to Tom Davis, founder of Teton Tenkara.

“For most people, it’s really easy to learn,” Davis said. “You can take somebody who has really never cast a fly rod before and you can put that tenkara rod in their hand and because that line is a certain length and the rod is very dynamic, all they have to do is move their hand back and forth a little bit and they can get the hang of it.”

Not only is it easy to learn, but it is also much cheaper compared to the typical load of gear needed when fishing.

“A Western fly rod of good quality may cost you several hundred dollars. With tenkara, a person can go to certain, selected sites and buy a reasonably quality rod. You can actually get a rod for under $100 in some places,” Davis said.

This particular style of fishing hails from the mountainous regions of Japan with fast-moving, chaotic streams and rivers. The people who lived in these regions developed a style of fishing that would allow them to place the fly right in the way of a passing fish.

“For streams that have a lot of tumbling pocket water, tenkara can really excel,” Davis said, meaning that this style of fishing is effective in the sort of water and terrain in Utah.

Some question whether tenkara fishing is a passing trend or not, but Tom Davis says it is here to stay.

“Some people use the word ‘fad,’ but for those of us who have always wanted and always enjoyed fishing all streams or these high gradient streams, tenkara fits so perfectly that it won’t be going away.”

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