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VIDEO: Backpacking and tenkara

Backpacking and tenkara go together like fish bones and sake (mmmm…kotsuzake), but there are not enough videos that document the experience of doing the two activities together. This is probably because it is a lot easier to make a video a few hundred feet from your car than a few miles from your car. As I well know, carrying camera gear gets old really fast.

Working on the tenkara movie on the shore of the Madison River, during an overnight backpacking trip with Ryan Jordan and Daniel Galhardo. Much equipment was carried in -- and carried out during a blizzard. Ugh.

Working on the tenkara movie on the shore of the Madison River in 2011, during an overnight backpacking trip with Ryan Jordan and Daniel Galhardo. Much equipment was carried in -- and carried out during a blizzard. Ugh.

But Daniel Galhardo of Tenkara USA recently strapped on the tripod and documented a 3-day pack trip in Colorado. We were excited to see some of our favorite things in this short video: a beautiful stream, trout cooking on “fish sticks,” and a phenomenon perhaps unique to tenkara backpackers — fishing with your pack on, while hiking, because you can. If there’s a stream along the trail, why wait until you arrive at the destination to fish? (Conventional flyfishers’ answer: Because there’s just way too much gear to set up and break down all the time.)

Thanks to Daniel for taking the trouble to shoot some video while fishing what looks like a perfect tenkara stream.

How small is a midge?

Compare Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari in hook sizes 12, 22 and 32 with an actual midge collected on the Gallatin River yesterday:

Closer image:

We’re gonna need a smaller hook.

Finding silk bead cord for tying flies on eyeless hooks

Tying flies on eyeless hooks — that is, flies like this that tie in some kind of cordage as the attachment point instead of a metal eye built into the hook — has been an obsession here at Learn Tenkara for about a year.

It’s fun to tie flies in a traditional Japanese way, and it’s possible that the flies have more natural movement in the water compared to flies tied on metal-eye hooks. And, as Chris Stewart points out in his latest post, it can be much easier to tie the tippet onto a fly with a very wide eye than one with a tiny metal eye that you can barely see.

But Chris also says, “The only problem is finding the silk bead cord to use for the loop.” We’ve also heard this same sentiment from other fly-tiers recently.

But finding silk bead cord is easy! It’s all over the place on da internets. At this writing, there are 142 active listings on eBay for “Griffin Bead Cord #2.”

On Amazon, the same search has 117 results.

Price is around $3 for 2 meters of cord.

There’s a reason we have so much silk bead cord here:

"Griffin woman...pretty woman." Your flies will be pretty, too. Look for Griffin Silk Bead Cord. Size #2 for most flies. Size #4 is okay for really big flies. Many colors available, or just get white and use markers to color the cord yourself.

To get eyeless hooks? TenkaraBum, of course. Or, you can just take the wire cutters to any eyed hook. We’ve been doing that with most of our flies lately, and have not had any problems.

You can use other materials for the loop: fly line backing, Amnesia monofilament, scrap level line, even 2X tippet. But nothing we’ve used is as nice as silk bead cord. It is strong, flexible, and the #2 cord size (.45mm) is not too thick to use for flies as small as 16, while some of the other materials options are just too bulky for anything but larger flies.

“One Fly” in the news

February 13, 2013 Ashley's Blog 5 Comments

The Denver Post Outdoors section has an article on Daniel Galhardo and tenkara today:

The fact that Daniel Galhardo has fly-fished for more than four years now without a reel, weighted fly line, leader, split shot or strike indicator is intriguing. The fact he has used only one fly to catch trout for the majority of that time is astonishing.

To devotees of the discipline known as tenkara, however, the notion falls far short of extraordinary. The traditional form of Japanese fly-fishing holds simplicity sacred, so it stands to reason that one basic fly pattern — albeit in four sizes and two colors — is all that’s really necessary to fool a fish into biting.

“It’s not really about being stubborn,” said Galhardo, the founder and CEO of Boulder-based Tenkara USA. “I think you can catch a lot more fish by not changing flies. It is one of the most difficult concepts of tenkara to understand and to embrace, that you can use just one fly pattern. But it is by far the most liberating and most effective part of tenkara.

“My philosophy with fishing, and I solidified it after discovering tenkara, is that technique is much more important than gear.”

This comes on the heels of Daniel’s blog entry yesterday titled “One Tenkara Fly – A Personal Choice”:

If you’re like most fly anglers, you like flies. Small and large, dull and shiny, reversed or “normal”. As we have introduced tenkara outside of Japan, we have focused on telling the story of tenkara, on sharing the fascinating layers of a method that has been practiced in Japan for centuries. I have gone to Japan numerous times and have spent a lot of time with multiple tenkara masters to learn the method as a whole. I did that to learn things that I couldn’t have learned otherwise, and to share the story with anyone who is interested.

Through tenkara, we have learned that we can make nets out of one branch of a tree. We have learned about flies made from snake skin, and flies made with dubbing from a plant. And, we have learned that most Japanese tenkara anglers of nowadays, perhaps largely influenced by their commercial angler predecessors, use only one fly pattern and focus on learning and refining technique rather than second-guessing fly choice. These are things I have shared on this blog for no purpose other than tell the true story of a method of fishing that I find fascinating, and perhaps to inspire folks to realize how simple fly-fishing can be. It’s never to tell people to simplify their fishing, simply to say it is possible to simplify it.

And (coincidentally?) Chris Stewart at TenkaraBum recently weighed in with his thoughts on the “One Fly” philosophy:

I know, all the marketing seems to be centered on tenkara not matching the hatch, about using only one fly to the exclusion of all others. Well, here’s the TenkaraBum approach to tenkara: Fish any flies you want. If you want to match the hatch, do so. If you want to fish size 26 midges in February and size 6 woolly buggers in June, do so.

There are those who believe tenkara should be pure, that it should be done only as it is done in Japan. Some even liken it to an art form. I’m not them. Don’t get me wrong. I love tenkara. I haven’t used a fly rod and reel since I picked up my first-attempt-to-simulate-tenkara-with-a-crappie rod back in 2007. If anyone is counting, that’s almost two years before tenkara was “introduced” to the US.

I agree with Chris. It’s just fine to use a Size 26 Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari during a midge hatch, and a Size 6 Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari as a “streamer” in the summer. So long as you’re using a Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari, you’re doing tenkara the right way.

What are your thoughts on the “One Fly” (sometimes called “Any Fly”) philosophy?

POSTER: “Tenkara Flies by Chris Stewart”

September 25, 2012 Ashley's Blog, Tenkara Flies 1 Comment
Tenkara Flies Poster

The holy grail: Attractive wall art that also tells you how to tie tenkara flies. Just $4.99

The beautiful, high-resolution underwater photos of tenkara flies that we took while producing the Tying Tenkara Flies DVD just could not be revealed in all their glory on a computer or TV screen. So we had them printed up as a poster.

The 18″ x 24″ (46 cm X 61 cm) poster features nine tenkara flies tied by Chris Stewart, with the materials list for each fly printed next to it.

Sakakibara Sakasa Kebari poster detail

Zoomed-in detail of the poster, which includes the recipe for each fly pattern featured.

The poster isn’t small, but also it isn’t huge…

Ashley With Tenkara Flies Poster

Holding a mounted poster to show scale.

Don’t you think it deserves a place on your wall?

We’re pricing it to be irresistible. Just $4.99. Plus shipping. (The packing will be done very carefully to ensure that the poster arrives in pristine condition.)

And, like all purchases made here at, the poster comes with a 100% unconditional money-back guarantee. Buy below…

Choose your country and click the “Buy Now” button:


United StatesShips out:
Same Day

Arrives in:
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Price: $4.99
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Total: $7.99


Outside U.S.Ships out:
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Arrives in:
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Price: $4.99
Shipping: 6.00

Total: $10.99


Your order will ship out same-day if you order before 5 pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. Later orders ship the next business morning. You will receive a delivery confirmation number via email when your order ships. Your receipt will read “Beyond Belief Media Company.”

Tenkara USA Forums Fly Swap VII

September 11, 2012 Ashley's Blog, Tenkara Flies 2 Comments
Tenkara Fly Swap terrestrial flies

Tenkara Fly Swap VII

The Tenkara USA Forums “Big Fat Fly Swap” has concluded. Lots of great flies that are perfect for late summer and fall fishing. Hoppers, ants, beetles, a mouse and an aphid.

Much thanks to acheataux for organizing the swap — and for contributing three flies instead of just one.

Tenkara USA Fly Swap terrestrial patterns

A hopper by Loften; a hopper and two beetles by acheataux

Two mini-hoppers by stevenlsmith87; Chernobyl ant by eaphilipp

Ant by Erik Ostrander; hopper by (unknown); mouse by Ashley Valentine

Size 26 aphid by Brian Flemming, placed between acheteaux's hopper and a Size 30 Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari for scale

If you want to participate in the next fly swap, just keep up with the Tenkara Flies section of the forums and look for the next announcement.

According to the internets, you can mouse just about anywhere.

(I did my best to match up the flies with their creators, but one fly is unidentified and one tyer seems to be missing. Corrections welcome — I’ll update the post.)

Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari update

September 6, 2012 Ashley's Blog 4 Comments

All of a sudden, the terrifying shortage of purple starling (the key ingredient of the Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari) seems to be over.

Yesterday, Chris Stewart posted at TenkaraBum that he has purple starling back in stock. Just $7.50.

A couple weeks ago we also found some at the site AO Feathers ($8 each), which sends you this sticker with your order:

We didn’t order any God or family — just feathers. From AO, we got the UV Purple and the UV Pink starling skins. The UV purple is a little on the blue side, but the pink is very much hot pink.

And we’ve been tipped via email that purple starling is also recently back in stock here, but we can’t confirm that.

But, instead of buying an already dyed skin, you could always dye your own starling skin. I finally took the plunge last week and honestly couldn’t believe how easy it was. I used Jacquard acid dye and, following very simple instructions, had a purple-dyed starling skin cooked up in about 15 minutes. I’m starting to look around for other things I can dye now (I have my eye on a hank of horsehair).

Finally, yet another celebrity endorsement has come in for the Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari. As you may know, previously Chris Stewart has raved about the fly, and Daniel Galhardo has caught fish on it himself right here in Montana. And now none other than Ryan JordanBackpackingLight founder, tenkara guide — has written to me that he’s been fishing the PRSK for months! Ryan says:

I wanted to drop you a short note to let you know that the PRSK has been a STAPLE for my clients this year. I don’t know if you thought it was goofy when you first tied it, but when I saw the purple, I got pretty jazzed. Purple is a major trigger, something the guides have known about for years.

I’ve been tying mine with a bright green UTC Ultra 140 thread with a tiny bit of sparkly olive dubbing near the thorax (two turns, maybe) (UTC shimmers nicer than silk, and the flies last longer) and natural purple starling, but I’ve added a black tungsten bead at the head, just to get it deeper. This is what I use for caddis hatches.

The other version I’ve been tying uses the UTC 140 body and one turn of hackle, no bead. I’ve coated the body with a thin layer of epoxy. This refracts light and makes the body look thinner. This is what I use for mayfly hatches.

If I’m not fishing streamers, I could easily use this as a one fly. It’s been a spectacular fly for me and my clients.

Yes, Ryan Jordan, I did think it was goofy when I first tied it. I still can’t believe that it has become a standard fly for so many tenkara anglers, or that I am now a (very part-time) commercial fly tyer, providing PRSKs for LearnTenkara to sell here online. (You can get a half-dozen PRSKs here. If you’d rather tie your own, you can get all of the necessary parts — Daiichi 1250 hooks, Olive 6/0 thread, purple starling — at TenkaraBum.)

Now if I could only get Dr. Ishigaki to start fishing the PRSK…

Tenkara terrestrials?

August 23, 2012 Ashley's Blog 7 Comments

The deadline for Fly Swap VII on the Tenkara USA forums is here. So Brian and I have to decide what we’re tying — and tie 8 flies each real quick.

The theme this time around is terrestrials — or, as acheateaux puts it, “The Big Fat Fly Swap.”

A couple weeks ago we stocked up on supplies to experiment with big ol’ honkin’ terrestrial patterns.

deer hair

Twenty-four dollars buys a LOT of deer hair on eBay. Wish I had more colors, though.

And four dollars buys a lot of foam.

Some of the first experiments: beetles and such

Hoppers and the like.

Experimenting with foam and silk line to make bulging eyes and antennae to imitate the natural (top).

Two attempts at a foam frog go for a swim. I thought about tying a frog for the swap...

...but when I learned that trout sometimes eat swimming mice, I decided I had to tie a mouse fly pattern.

So I learned how to spin deer hair.

I didn't find it as difficult as some people make it sound.

After packing on about eight stacks of deer hair, I started shaping my first deer-hair mouse.

Somehow the general shape of a rodent emerged. I tied on a partridge feather and swept it forward to imitate whiskers.

Which makes it a sakasa kebari. Kind of.

My second mouse goes for a swim in the aquarium.

So now I am busy tying lots of mice.

And after experimenting with all sorts of giant foam and deer-hair monsters, what terrestrial did Brian decide to tie for the “Big Fat Fly Swap”?

A Size 26 aphid.

What is tenkara? And what isn’t?

August 15, 2012 Ashley's Blog 56 Comments

These two questions seem to be popping up in the tenkara conversation more and more lately. I’m working on an article focused on these two questions and I’d love to know what you think.

Please offer your thoughts in the comments or, if you prefer, shoot me an email.



Our Tying Tenkara Flies Vol. 1 DVD features Dr. Ishigaki, Chris Stewart and Daniel Galhardo tying 17 different patterns. Some people are calling Tying Tenkara Flies the best fly-tying DVD ever produced -- and we agree!

Click here to view the trailer and learn more.


Buy or tie the Punk Rock Sakasa Kebari, the signature fly of's editor, Ashley Valentine.

Click here to learn about the fly

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Want to learn more about tenkara? On this site you'll find videos that feature some of the best tenkara anglers in the world, such as Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, Daniel Galhardo, Chris Stewart and Ryan Jordan. In addition to watching how-to videos, view photos, and follow along with novice Ashley on her blog as she endeavors to master this simple but challenging style of fishing. Read more about us.

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