Tenkara Grasshopper Central

Tenkara an Art or Science?

Tenkara an Art or Science?

by November 23, 2016 0 comments

Questions always arise when it comes to this unique style of fly-fishing we call tenkara. I took a family member out to introduce him to tenkara.  He asked whether it was an art or a science. Taking what I know of tenkara, I did my best to answer his question with my thoughts on the “fly”. Mulliing this over for the past few days brought me here.

There is a depth to tenkara that exists far beyond what most anglers consider. I get the feeling that many who practice tenkara use it as nothing more than a way to catch fish. A significant quantity of my personal tenkara time is dedicated to only catching fish. I make many trips science trips with catching fish as a bonus. With the question of whether tenkara is art or science I have come to a realization that is both.

Tenkara as Art

Tenkara Kyasuto (Cast)


Watch an experienced tenkara angler practicing their cast and you will observe beauty in motion. In one flowing motion, the tenkara angler lifts their arm, gracefully lifting the line and fly off the water. When the rod is at 12 o’clock a brief pause occurs while the angler waits for the line to load the rod tip. The angler flawlessly brings the rod forward stopping at 10 o’clock abruptly presenting the fly onto the surface of the water.

The line and fly glide through the air, while the tenkara angler anticipates the gentle melding of  each with the surface of the water. As soon as the kebari “falls from heaven” the angler keeps their line tight following the current as it moves the fly downstream.

Kebari Sasoi


Each presentation or sasoi of the kebari varies due to what the angler sees. The observations which the angler takes in should direct him or her to find the corresponding sasoi.

Individual sasoi are similar to varying brush strokes. Painting a picture with different sasoi creates an underwater version of the Mona Lisa to a fish. If the angler uses the correct sasoi, he or she will definitely increase the catch rate making for a successful day on the river.

Using the correct sasoi is an aspect that anyone can learn and practice. Integrating effective sasoi into your practice will create an effective tenkara angler.

Art Conclusions

I believe that tenkara is truly an art that anyone can learn with patience. I am also aware that there are scientific aspects that make tenkara what it is.

Tenkara as Science

Reading the River


Reading the river is a science anyone can learn with practice. Observing different features tells the angler where they will find fish. Each feature will offer different benefits to the fish as well as drawbacks.

Seeing a feature and recognizing the benefits to a fish will increase the chances of a productive day on the river. Learning to read the river takes patience and dedication.

There are resources available for the student of the river. One of my favorite resources is Moving Water: A Fly Fisher’s Guide to Currents by Jason Randall. Reading this book will teach you what to look for when you get to the river or when you are fishing.

This is a science every angler should learn to become productive tenkara anglers.

Look for a review of this book and Mr. Randall’s other two books in the series coming soon.


Bugs are the creatures that keep fish alive. Learning about the life cycle of bugs helps the angler to offer the suitable fly to the fish.

Understanding what fish eat and when gives the angler the clues as to how to present a fly (see Kebari Sasoi above). Best of all, the angler does not have to learn the latin terms for each species of bug found on and in the river. Learning the latin names can be fun if you really want to get deep into the world of river entomology.

My ultimate resource for learning entomology is a DVD produced by Robert Younghanz entitled The Bug Guy Entomology for the Fly Fisher. 

You can read my review here.

Science Conclusions

Tenkara does require understanding science on a rudimentary level. You do not need to be an astrophysicist to become a successful tenkara angler. It does not hurt to dig deeper into the watery world of river ecosystems though.


Tenkara is both an art and a science with one becoming the other. If an angler wants to make it an art, they can focus on the cast dancing the line through the air. If they wish to make it a science the focus can be on moving water or entomology.

Share your thoughts with the tenkara community around the world and at home.

Following the links above will allow you to either go to a review post or make a purchase through Amazon.com.

Photo credit: rscottjones via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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