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 two 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. Be sure to read part one here.
There are a few common mistakes I observe in clients when guiding. Of these, the main ones have been discussed below, with my feedback on how to counter these 'bad habits'.
The Problem - Wrist Casting:
This has been by far the most common problem I have had with my clients. They will cast using only their wrist while keeping their entire arm stationary. Not only does this reduce accuracy but the line is constantly wrapping around the rod, it knots up the tippet, and the client quickly tires (these same clients also tended to hold their arm up above their head, trying to guide the fly. Both of these incorrect techniques will quickly wear them out).
To prevent too much wrist movement, I have the client grab their casting wrist with their free hand to prevent it from flexing. At the same time, I have them focus on 12-9:30 o’clock movement with their forearm while keeping their elbow pressed to their side (this also fixes the constantly raised and consequently tired arm).
The Problem - Emulating Tom Sawyer:
Another issue I’ve seen time and time again is a client casting into the river and letting their fly sit in the water for minutes at a time.
This isn’t a cane pole with a worm as bait. A kebari needs constant motion applied to it, either by you or by the current. Letting it sit in a fast moving current (or even a still pool) for several minutes will almost never catch a fish.
The Problem – Trawling:
With the lack of a reel I found that once a client had caught a fish they would often resort to walking backwards to drag the fish up onto the bank. Of course this resulted in many slips and falls (including several clients that fell into the river). Once the fish was on the bank they would walk towards it, which would then slacken the line and the fish would often times flop off the hook and back into the river.
This one was harder to fix, because despite going over bringing a fish to hand in great detail during the trailside brief many clients would forget in their excitement and resort to the trawling method to land a fish. I tended to guide larger groups (5+) so it wasn’t always possible to keep them all within talking distance which further complicated the matter. All I could do was explain the proper technique and hope they remembered when the time came.
Catch and Release and Keeping Fish
The ground rule I set up was that if a fish was as long or longer than the cork handle of the Tenkara rod, it was large enough to keep. Anything shorter should be released.
Early in the season, before the monsoon floods washed all the larger fish into the ocean, I had many clients catching and keeping nearly every fish they caught (per the license agreement the limit was 10 fish per person per day). I knew there was no way they could eat every fish they were keeping so I instituted a new policy: “I’ll gut and clean the fish, but you have to kill it.” Suddenly when faced with the task of killing such a beautiful animal filled with life the client would often opt to release the fish instead.
I was quite surprised at how many of my clients, even those who professed to have fished most of their life, did not know that you shouldn’t touch a fish with dry hands. Now I make it a point to stress this over and over again. If you’re releasing fish that have been touched with a dry hand you are essentially killing them and might as well keep them.
Isaac Tait - Fallfish Tenkara
Tenkara Guide & Blogger in Japan