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VIDEO: Playing Big Fish with Tenkara

August 20, 2011 Videos 3 Comments

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Can tenkara handle big fish? Many Western-style fly anglers mistakenly believe that landing large fish is not possible with a tenkara rod. In this myth-busting video, Daniel Galhardo demonstrates just how well tenkara deals with big fish as he easily handles a 20″ Madison River wild brown trout with his four-ounce, soft-action Ito rod. The trout comes to net at least as fast as a rod-and-reel rig would have done it, and the fish has plenty of energy left as Daniel releases it.

This video was shot in April 2011, during an overnight backpacking trip to Bear Trap Canyon in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness with Daniel Galhardo (founder of Tenkara USA) and Ryan Jordan (founder of BackpackingLight). Ryan has been fishing tenkara “almost exclusively” for the past three years and may be the only licensed backcountry tenkara fishing guide in the U.S.

Ryan wrote about this trip on his blog in an entry titled “Big River Fly Fishing: Why Tenkara Beats Western Methods.”

“Tenkara has limitations”.

Oh, if I had a fly for every time I’ve heard this one from a shop clerk, “pro” angler, blogger, or other self-professed expert…

So let’s talk about the real limitations of tenkara methods:

  1. You can’t fish weighted nymphs with a tenkara rod. Sure you can. You might have to wear a bag over your head, because tenkara purists will scoff at you, but I find some degree of satisfaction putting a weighted Czech nymph at the end of the line and managing its position and drift with the precision that only tenkara can provide. See below for more info. Caveat: you can’t chuck weighted nymphs with them. In addition, big weighted nymphs can nick the rod tip and break it. Finally, big flies require robust tippets to cast, and you don’t want to be using tippets stronger than 4x or you’ll risk tip failure. So, fish weighted nymphs all you want, but keep them small and don’t fool around with strike indicators and split shot, or all of tenkara’s fly control advantages will be lost. Tenkara, with a weighted nymph, is high-stick Czech nymphing at its finest, and most effective.
  2. You can’t reach fish that are 50 feet away with a tenkara rod. Then walk or wade towards them, you lazy bum.
  3. Tenkara fishing eliminates the cool factor I get by showing off my $400 disc-drag hi-capacity large arbor reel. Spend the $400 bucks on a nice camera: you’ll be so much cooler landing a five pound brown and asking the guy with the reel to take a photo of you with your “little trout” and “fly stick”.
  4. You can’t look like Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It when you’re casting a tenkara rod. Brad Pitt will have nothing on you. Tenkara is sexy – but it’s for Presbyterians, too.

I live, fish, and guide in Southwest Montana on big rivers like the Yellowstone, Madison, and Missouri – and am here to tell you that I’m a big-river-big-fish tenkara addict.

Daniel also wrote about the trip in “Montana, a tenkara-perfect state!

For 2 days we enjoyed great fishing. Together we worked to dispel some of the myths surrounding tenkara, and help affirm some of the aspects of tenkara that most people still receive with skepticism.

First, we fished a large mountain stream. Generally people still associate tenkara with small streams. And, yes, it’s great for small streams. I think small streams call for tenkara. However, tenkara is not limited to small streams. For over a year now Tenkara USA has stopped saying that tenkara is made for “small streams”, as that term is vague and not appropriate to describe the ideal waters for tenkara. Tenkara is ideal for fly fishing mountain streams. Mountain streams are those that have visible features, normally currents broken up by boulders and other obstacles. The Madison, by definition, is a mountain river, and, like most rivers it can be broken down into smaller sections. The Madison is thus a series of mountain streams running parallel to each other. And, any such stream can be very effectively fished with tenkara.

Daniel Galhardo with another big Madison River brown caught on the same trip to Bear Trap Canyon

Daniel Galhardo with another big Madison River brown caught on the same trip to Bear Trap Canyon


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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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