Tenkara Grasshopper Central

Traditional Tenkara An Exploration

Traditional Tenkara An Exploration

by February 9, 2018 10 comments

As a guide and tenkara angler I find myself being a perpetual student of tenkara. Many topics arise when discussing tenkara with others. Recently, there has been a proliferation of discussions on what constitutes traditional tenkara and fixed line fishing. Along with this comes the offshoot question of whether modern tenkara anglers are practicing traditional tenkara in the United States.

So in the spirit of sharing, I am here today to share my thoughts on tenkara with you. This is in no way an attack on any particular viewpoint of tenkara.

Traditional Tenkara

Historical Tenkara

traditional tenkara angler

Tenkara is an ancient form of fly fishing developed in Japan that was practiced by poor mountain fisherman. It was a way to provide for their families commercially. Efficiency was mandatory to be a successful professional tenkara angler.

Traditional Tenkara Equipment

Because they were very poor, the professional tenkara angler had to use materials that were easily accessible to him.

Traditional Tenkara Rods

Tenkara rods were constructed from pieces of bamboo nested together. Building a tenkara rod was a slow process, yet one done with patience.

Traditional Tenkara Kebari

hida shokawa zenmai kebari

Kebari were tied using materials found close to home. There are stories of tenkara anglers who tied kebari using materials found around the house. A hook might have been made from a sewing needle taken from the wife’s sewing kit. A hackle feather might have come from a chicken the angler had for dinner the night before. The thread used to tie a kebari might have been from an old garment or from the wife’s sewing kit.

Traditional Tenkara Lines

horse hair tenkara line, traditional tenkara gear

The furled lines used by Japanese tenkara anglers were made using horse hair. These furled lines were constructed by braiding hair from the tail of a horse. To finish off the line the traditional Japanese tenkara angler used, there was one final piece in his system that came from nature.

An angler’s tippet was constructed using gut or silk.

Modern Day Tenkara

Having looked at what traditional Japanese tenkara was, let’s dive into what modern tenkara is.

Modern Tenkara Equipment

Society, for the most part, has grown into a more financially secure period. Technology has also advanced by leaps and bounds with the passing of time.

Modern Tenkara Rods

Due to advances in materials and manufacturing, the tenkara angler of today can get an incredibly performing rod at a very reasonable price.

Using graphite and carbon fiber, the tenkara rod manufacturers of today are consistently improving and making amazing rods.

tenkara usa iwana annual tenkara holiday gift list 2017

Tenkara USA, a company started by Daniel Galhardo, brought tenkara to the United States in 2009. Through the study of traditional bamboo tenkara rods handmade in Japan by the likes of Tenkara no Oni, Daniel was able to learn rod construction. Along with the production of bamboo tenkara rods, Daniel was also able to study modern rods made by companies like Daiwa.

Combining the characteristics of both bamboo and modern rods, Daniel was able to create a modern rod for today’s tenkara angler, at least here in the USA. Daniel also took the advice of tenkara anglers in Japan while designing his rods. With reviews from active tenkara anglers like Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, the 11′ and 12′ Tenkara USA Iwana came into existence.

With the Iwana, came an introduction to an ancient style of fly fishing, along with the growth of an industry that continues to grow and flourish.

Modern Tenkara Kebari

Tying kebari is a past time anyone can participate in. With the advent of fly fishing shops, an immense range of materials are now available easily to the beginning and experienced kebari tier.

Along with availability in materials, there has been an increase in the quality of materials for the kebari tier.

The manufacturing techniques used today make extremely strong hooks. The penetrating power of modern hooks are out of this world. Technology such as chemical hardening have made the kebari hook of today of much higher quality.

Having duck or chicken for dinner is no longer a deciding factor in what a kebari looks like.

A practicing tenkara angler and kebari tyer, able to purchase thread in every color in the rainbow and then some, can create a kebari pattern of their own using a base pattern. My fly tying desk at home is a classic example of how many colors are available to the modern kebari tier.

Modern Tenkara Lines

Level Line

Modern manufacturing and materials have revolutionized tenkara lines. Even though there are tenkara anglers using horsehair furled lines, they are not the norm. (In no way am I trying to be condescending to anyone who might use a horsehair line!)

Furled Lines

Using cotton and nylon individually or combined, furled lines are becoming more and more performance oriented. My first tenkara specific furled line came from Tenkara USA and I still use one to this day.

Nylon Based Lines

Once I discovered the benefits of nylon things changed for me. Nylon has made the production of tenkara lines a whole new realm of innovation.

Level Lines

First off for me was the experience of using level lines. My casting got better and so did my presentations. Every line spool I owned housed a level line of some kind. There were variations in weight and length for experimentation to start. In a short period of time my furled lines fell by the wayside.

Tapered Nylon Lines

Having become totally comfortable with level lines and finding my groove using these, an new innovation came my way.

While talking tenkara with Daniel Galhardo, on the Tenkara USA Podcast, I learned about a product that Tenkara USA was going to be releasing to the market soon. Daniel handed me the nylon tapered line that was going to be hitting the website shortly after our talk.

I was to quickly fall in love with the nylon tapered line. Interestingly, I seem to frequently forget about the level lines in my sling pack and only use the tapered line now. Who knew that modern innovations would cause such great changes???

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10 Comments so far

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  1. Tenkara Gnome
    #1 Tenkara Gnome 19 July, 2018, 19:10

    Excellent site, excellent attitude, excellent comments! I am new to Tenkara, having just started about May 2018. My wife, who supports my hobbies totally, says that when I start something, I dive in with everything. I guess she’s right, because I’ve researched a lot and it appears that “traditional Tenkara” is very local. What I mean is they each area in Japan has certain flies that are used, based on local conditions. American Tenkara is growing in that spirit, and I love that! Truth be told, my Tenkara flies catch more fish than my traditional flies do. A rod, a line, a fly…and you and the fish. Simple, effective, but mostly fun.

    Reply this comment
    • Graham Moran
      Graham Moran Author 20 July, 2018, 14:30


      Thanks for the comment. Yes I do believe that line you said, there is a regional it’s to American Tenkara. The more I play with kebari patterns I am developing I am finding a crazy range of possibilities. Tenkara is such a cool way to fish and I hope you enjoy your journey. If you have any questions please come back and ask any questions you have.

      Also listen to the next episode of the Tenkara Grasshopper Hansha Podcast coming soon.

      Reply this comment
  2. toshirou todoroki
    #2 toshirou todoroki 10 February, 2018, 19:53

    Traditional tenkara fishing can be divided into two
    Well-known methods are fun, but that method hidden may also be fun

    Reply this comment
    • Graham Moran
      Graham Moran Author 10 February, 2018, 22:28

      Thank you Todoroki-san. I agree with you that there are two well known methods. Ultimately, it comes down to fun.

      Arigatou gozaimasu

      Reply this comment
  3. Kamakiri-san
    #3 Kamakiri-san 9 February, 2018, 19:07

    Tenkara evolved in Japan to suit its culture and location. It will do the same here in the states whether the purists like it or not. That being said, none of this changes the tradition of Japanese Tenkara in the slightest and you are free to practice the sport in the traditional way if you choose.

    I for one am happy to have been able to share the beauty of trout fishing with so many of my family and close friends because of the simplicity and effectiveness of Tenkara. The enjoyment it has brought to so many new anglers here in the States should not be allowed to be dulled by quixotic notions of “True Tenkara” elitism. Let it be what it wants to be.

    Reply this comment
  4. Marc
    #4 Marc 9 February, 2018, 16:56

    Excellent read! I also enjoyed the high level overview of how Tenkara has evolved. I’ve learned so much from the Tenkara community since 2012 and I hope we always remember that what connects us will always be stronger than our differences in philosophy.

    Reply this comment
    • Graham Moran
      Graham Moran Author 9 February, 2018, 17:02


      As an angler I agree with you on so many levels. Thank you for your comment. We all need to remember that it is a lives for a technique not a philosophy.

      Reply this comment
  5. Tenkara Gandolf
    #5 Tenkara Gandolf 9 February, 2018, 14:51

    Spot on.

    Reply this comment
    • Graham Moran
      Graham Moran Author 9 February, 2018, 14:57

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate such a quick yet short comment. Please come back whenever you wish. I hope that you will feel safe in commenting in more detail if you wish.

      Reply this comment

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