Top tricks, tips and techniques from an established Tenkara guide in Japan.
With my first season as a Tenkara guide under my belt I thought it would be helpful to share what I have learned. My hope is that at least parts of this post will prove to be informative and helpful - and not just to aspiring guides, but for those who enjoy Tenkara yet earn their bread through more conventional (and most likely more prosperous) lines of work.
This is part one of a three-part article compiled by Isaac Tait, a Tenkara guide living in Japan who also chronicles his adventures in Japan on Fallfish Tenkara. The purpose of this series is to share some of the knowledge he has learned during his first season as a Tenkara fly fishing guide.
The night before I am scheduled to guide, I go through my equipment and ensure that everything is ready to go. For each client I have a line with four meters of 3.5 level line, a meter of 6x or 5x tippet, and a kebari ready to go and wrapped up on a large foam spool. This way when I get to the river all I have to do is attach the line to the lillian, expand the rod, unfurl the spool, and set the client loose on the river (after the trailhead brief of course). Twenty minutes of prep work the night before can make a huge difference on the river.
At The Trailhead
The most important part of the day in my opinion is the trailhead brief. I like to keep the instruction period concise, because I know that both myself and the clients are eager to get on the river. However, if you rush this crucial time you’ll just make more work for yourself on the river. Take advantage of everyone being in the same place so you don’t have to explain the same thing repeatedly throughout the day. I like to cover the following information (and while I’m doing it I am setting up each client’s rod):
· Brief History of Tenkara
· Nomenclature of the Tenkara Rod
· Merits of the Kebari
· Rules of the River
· Catch and Release ethics
· Casting technique
· Emergency Procedures (covered in detail in section three)
At the end of the brief I hand them their rod and let them hit the water.
On the River
Once the brief is over I give my clients 20-30 minutes to fish on their own. During this time, I fish myself and normally catch a few fish, which helps confirm that my fly selection was correct. I also watch my clients and see what areas they need specific help with. Every client is different; sometimes they grasp the techniques quickly and need little one on one attention, while other clients require hours of special attention.
I remember one lady in particular who hadn’t caught a fish in hours while everyone else was catching some real beauties. After talking with her for a bit she confessed to me that she kept hitting rocks with her fly. She thought that the bumps she was feeling was the kebari hitting underwater rocks! Once I told her that each bump was a fish biting the fly and that she should set the hook upon feeling the next “bump”, she started raking in fish.
Knots forming in the tippet is almost guaranteed to happen, especially with the less experienced angler. If there are large fish in the river it is best to replace the tippet once there is a knot in it. Nothing is more discouraging than losing the “big one” because of one tiny knot in your tippet that caused the line to snap. A knot in tippet can cut its load bearing capacity and tensile strength by over half! I went through about 120 meters of tippet during the last fishing season. Thankfully tippet is cheap and having knot-free tippet can make or break a client’s experience.
I’ll never forget the first fish I caught with my Tenkara rod - it was a small blue gill, but that didn’t matter because I was ecstatic and had to get a photo of the fish. So I set my rod on the ground, stepped back to grab my camera out of my pack, and then proceeded to step on my rod. The dichotomy of those emotions simultaneously catching my first fish with a Tenkara rod and hearing my rod shatter beneath my feet was sickening. Consequently, I tell my clients to never set their rods on the ground. If they need both hands for a task I show them how to hold it pinched between their side and their arm or in the crook of their leg when crouching.
After many bad experiences with clients collapsing and expanding their Tenkara rods I don’t allow them to do it anymore. They often would expand the rod with such force that they were next to impossible to collapse later (if this happens I have found that one or two drops of bicycle chain lube helps loosen a tight section). Or they would snap sections trying to collapse the rods on their own. Then there were the few clients (mostly younger kids) who opened the rod like a toy lightsaber, which resulted in several broken sections.
Isaac Tait - Fallfish Tenkara
Tenkara Guide & Blogger in Japan