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My tenkara story (and why you should too)
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Kyle Meyer

Locale: Portland, OR
My tenkara story (and why you should too) on 08/22/2011 15:01:33 MDT Print View

Backpack fly ishing report


I'm new to the world of fishing. I grew up fishing occasionally with my father, but have come to understand that I went fishing, but never really learned how to fish. Last year, I started bringing a somewhat lightweight five piece graphite spin rod on backpacking trips to lakes and was hooked shortly after the first few fish were.

Catching and eating fish while backpacking added an interesting new dimension to my trips. I started looking for trips around my area with great fishing and planning my time around it. There were two big issues though:

  1. I didn't know what I was doing. Fishing advice on the internet is largely anecdotal and contradictory. But, by and large, everyone can throw a bobber out into a lake with some chemically delicious blob on the end and end up with something. Because I had no idea about the mechanics of fishing, why fish would bite, how deep I should put the lure, or a multitude of other considerations, my success was inconsistent at best.

  2. My fishing pole was heavy and awkward. Even with a lightweight graphite rod and "ultralight pack reel", my fishing tackle weighed 20oz including various lures and weights and bobbers and bubbles. I had to stick the pole awkwardly out the side pocket and the reel would occasionally catch on bushes or trees while hiking. When I wanted to fish, assembling the pieces, stringing the line through the eyelets and attaching a lure took precious minutes I could have been fishing.

Enter Tenkara

After reading progressively more and more about tenkara fishing here and on Tenkara Bum (and growing disenchanted with my bulky fishing set up that yielded inconsistent results), I decided I wanted to make the switch. Thanks to Fountainhead's Caddis Fly 360, a quality tenkara rod can now be purchased for $50, and with another $50 going to a level line, flies, tippet, and a fly fishing book, it was just under $100 to get started. The best part? My entire fishing setup now weighs just 7oz.

I didn't catch fish right away though. In fact, quite the opposite. A trip from Portland, OR down to the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe yielded no fish. None. I fished for hours and hours and hours and thought I was wasting my time flailing this stupid tiny fly around with no idea if I was accomplishing anything. It wasn't until we were driving back north through the Redwoods when we happened to stop at a creek along the road and I started ripping tiny brook trout out of the water one after another that I felt like the tenkara rod maybe wasn't a waste of time and money.

Fast forward to today; I've only had the rod for two months but have already caught more than 80 fish. This weekend, I went with my wife to a mostly unknown Siouxon Creek in southern Washington for a quick overnight trip to swim and caught 34 rainbow trout in roughly four hours of fishing (mostly while she slept in the morning), including a foot-long one we had for dinner. I managed to catch three fish in the same pool with just three casts, the third one being a beautiful 10" fat bodied fellow.

The best part is that fishing is no longer a gamble or hassle. I've learned from this forum and other fly fishing blogs how to spot good water and am now accurate enough to cast directly to the fish in the first couple casts. It has become incredibly addictive and entertaining.


Thank you

So thank you to everyone who has written about tenkara and brought this specialty to the attention of backpackers. It's improved my enjoyment of the outdoors immensely—so much so, the weight is permanently listed on my baseweight spreadsheet between my first aid kit and bug spray.

And to those that are thinking about giving it a try, I hope this helps convince you that you should.

Fish, prepped and ready for the grill

Edited by kylemeyer on 08/22/2011 17:14:13 MDT.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"My tenkara story (and why you should too)" on 08/22/2011 15:12:16 MDT Print View

Thanks a lot, Kyle. I'm right behind you on the Tenkara curve.

I caught my first fish last week, then caught a bunch more. Including some beautiful fish with orange bellies. Goldens, I think.

Definitely addictive. Future trips will for sure be planned around fishing.

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: My tenkara story (and why you should too) on 08/22/2011 16:24:50 MDT Print View

My story is similar, but my tally is less...probably since I am mostly trying to use my Tenkara rod on Saltwater. Yes, I know, square peg; round hole. It did nicely on the Gallatin, however.

Tony Beasley
(tbeasley) - MLife

Locale: Pigeon House Mt from the Castle
Re: Re: My tenkara story (and why you should too) on 08/22/2011 16:50:32 MDT Print View

I have had much the same experience.

Check my blog posts on Tenkara fishing.


Edited by tbeasley on 08/22/2011 16:51:40 MDT.

adam spates
(adamspates) - F

Locale: southeast
kudos on 08/22/2011 18:26:28 MDT Print View

Wow! A fantastic article and great photos as well! You should write!

I've been fishing for a long time here in the south. Bass fishing tournaments along with bass, bream, crappie and catfish for pleasure and food. A couple of weeks ago my father and I went to the Wind River Range which is famous for its trout fishing. I took an Emmrod Packrod along with numerous types of spinners in different colors and size and spoons also. I got skunked! I have only been fishing no more than 10 times in my life when I didn't catch anything! And I fish a lot! I would cast a spinner and just after I started realing a trout would bust an insect in the same spot. So frustrating! They were everywhere! The whole time I kept thinking about all the Tenkara articles and posts I had read and thinking I should try one. So thanks for hope and info.!

Edited by adamspates on 08/22/2011 18:29:02 MDT.

Scott Truong

Locale: Vancouver, BC
RE: My tenkara story (and why you should too) on 08/22/2011 19:02:18 MDT Print View

Hmmm..darn..I wasn't going to spend any more money before my trip. Maybe I will take a fishing rod along. Great write up.

David A
(DavidAdair) - M

Locale: West Dakota
The Curtis Creek Manifesto- Being a Basic Guide to the Art of Fly Fishing on Moving Water on 08/22/2011 21:39:31 MDT Print View

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm.

If you are interested in learning to fish with a fly The Curtis Creek Manifesto is a good book to have. It is written in a simple, cartoonish sort of style (which suits some of us!). It is easy to underestimate the information presented, but every word is the gospel. If you can master the simple tenets covered in this book, you will be capable fly-fisherman. Not Tenkara but I'm not sure trout can tell the difference. About $10 on

God bless you Sheridan Anderson (the author) wherever you are!

Mark Ries
(mtmnmark) - M

Locale: IOWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
Curtis Creek manifesto on 08/22/2011 22:54:11 MDT Print View

Thats Sheridan Andreas Mulholland Anderson eternal foe of the work ethic to you. He also wrote a book Baron Von Mabel's Backpacking which is maybe a little hard to find nowdays but an excellant read for being 30+ yrs old, the intro was wrote by Royal Robbins. Sheridan died just after the book was published from " causes relating to his love of excessive living". He said Backpacking was the art of knowing what not to take. If he was still alive im sure he would be big into UL. I highly recommend both his books the man was funny and drew great cartoons and a lot of great info. R.I.P. Sheridan....or hopefully there are trails,trout and no work where you are

Edited by mtmnmark on 08/22/2011 23:17:53 MDT.

Kyle Meyer

Locale: Portland, OR
Re: The Curtis Creek Manifesto- Being a Basic Guide to the Art of Fly Fishing on Moving Water on 08/23/2011 18:28:16 MDT Print View

Just ordered the manifesto—thanks!

I was inspired to write the OP because I saw a lot of technical posts of rod comparisons and fly tying and which case to hold the rod in, but I didn't really see anyone except Ryan Jordan writing a review of the feeling of Tenkara fishing, how it's changed their backpacking, or why it's a better experience for them.

That said, the book recommendation was extremely timely because while I think I understand how to fish dry flies effectively, I have no idea what I'm doing with wet flies and my hit rate reflects that. If a fly is underwater, I'm lost.

Dan M
(r4gl7q) - MLife

Locale: Arizona
The epiphany? on 08/23/2011 20:47:52 MDT Print View

I've been out fishing a few times with my Tenkara setup (although I currently refer to it as fly casting instead of fishing ... no fish have even sniffed at my flies). What transformed your 'fly casting' into 'fishing'? Did you do something differently that suddenly got the fish attracted to your flies? I frankly think my flies look very tasty ... I just don't understand why the fish don't!??!?

Mark Ries
(mtmnmark) - M

Locale: IOWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
Re: The epiphany on 08/24/2011 07:35:23 MDT Print View

The fish want to eat what they are eating at the moment, if there is a hatch then you must match, thats a quote from Johney Cochran. AND they like to eat alone, or with their own kind so you need to hide. Also 80% of a trouts food comes from below the surface so dry flys are seldom the best The epiphany might be a book

Kyle Meyer

Locale: Portland, OR
Re: Re: The epiphany on 08/25/2011 11:00:21 MDT Print View

My experience is that matching a hatch could matter but never has for me personally. I have noticed that proper placement of flies to areas that are holding fish, and perfect presentation are what really matter when I'm fishing. If I cast sloppily and tippet piles up on the fly, or I hit the water too hard, the fish are vastly less apt to bite.

Stealth, water selection, and presentation are the difference between catching fish and not for me so far.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: the tenkara epiphany on 08/31/2011 12:04:00 MDT Print View

Great post and discussion. I'd dabbled in fly fishing for a while, and even had some good days out, before I got a tenkara rod last year. Since then I've spent mcuh, much more time fishing and had much, much more fun doing so. And caught a lot more fish.

My first rule to turn fly casting (been there!) into fly fishing is to fish where others don't. A little bushwacking and/or a few miles of hiking can make all the difference versus a roadside stream that gets lots of pressure.

The second rule is to know what the heck you're doing. Do some reading (the aforementioned books), do some research (some alpine lakes in my area have tons of fish, some are barren, it's good to know which is which and this is not always obvious), and get out there and find what works.

Third rule is to practice. You won't learn to cast in the wind until you cast in the wind, etc.

All that said, there are many exceptions to all of those rules. In the last few weeks I've had two excellent evenings of fishing which were yards from roads, and in areas I'd assume were well fished. On one occasion my stepdad and I caught ~50 trout in little over an hour, all within earshot of a major national park campground. The fish weren't being especially picky about the fly, either.

Last night I hiked up to an alpine lake and spent two hours catching fish ON AVERAGE every other cast. On one occasion I caught five fish in as many casts. I tried a bunch of flies for experimental purposes, and the only things which didn't work were big flies (most of the trout were small, and couldn't seem to eat a fly over size 14-16 (they did try)), and darker flies (fewer trout saw them). Everything that was lighter and well-hackled caught fish like crazy.

All of which is to say that fishing is fun, and fishing with tenkara is funerer.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: re: the tenkara epiphany on 08/31/2011 13:07:38 MDT Print View

Heh. "Funerer."

Kyle Meyer

Locale: Portland, OR
Re: Re: re: the tenkara epiphany on 09/01/2011 16:55:49 MDT Print View

I'm headed to the Enchantments this weekend in northern Washington. I've heard rumors of golden trout stocked in a few of these high alpine lakes by a volunteer organization. Trouble is, I've never caught a fish with tenkara out of a lake.

Do I need to fish differently? I have a 12' rod.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
alpine lakes on 09/02/2011 07:46:58 MDT Print View

My lake fishing experience is pretty slim, so take this with some salt:

One might divide alpine lakes into two types, shallow ones with visible underwater features in which fish might take cover, and deeper ones. For the former, you can fish them like a still river: stalking and casting to likely areas where fish ought to be hiding. In the later, I pick likely spots (inlets/outlets of streams, interface between gravel bars and deep pools) and cast repeatedly in the same/similar spot. The idea here, as I've been told it, is that lake fish in deeper water will often cruise around feeding and you'll want to work a spot for a while to maximize your chances.

First, look in a guidebook/state website and try to find out which lakes have fish.

Kyle Meyer

Locale: Portland, OR
Re: alpine lakes on 09/07/2011 11:41:32 MDT Print View

Well, I just got back. Lake Stuart was absolutely teaming with beautiful cutthroat trout. I was too busy catching them to take any pictures, but here's a photo of where I was fishing. I'm the tiny yellow spec at the bottom. Caught somewhere around 12 fish, kept a few 12"ers.

I've now caught fish on a lake with Tenkara! Hooray!

Edited by kylemeyer on 09/07/2011 11:43:13 MDT.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
My tenkara story (and why you should too) on 09/07/2011 13:08:22 MDT Print View

Lake Stuart is a beautiful place -- congrats on the fishing! Where else did you go in the area?

Kyle Meyer

Locale: Portland, OR
Re: My tenkara story (and why you should too) on 09/07/2011 16:12:52 MDT Print View

We lost the lottery this year so we ended up with permits to Stuart. We hiked in Saturday, swam and fished, and then day hiked into the core Enchantments Sunday and hung out for just a bit. Made for a long, tiring Sunday, but glorious nonetheless.

Here's my trip report if you're interested. There's a picture of fish in the water at least :)

Manfred Kopisch
(Orienteering) - F
Tenkara on the JMT on 09/07/2011 16:43:32 MDT Print View

When I did the JMT with my sons last year we carried two traditional fyfishing rods and one spin casting rod. When going on the JMT with my daughters this summer, I decided to take three Tenkaras along, since I was carrying the poles for them. The results were beyond my wildest dreams. We would almost daily have fresh trout for dinner - and quite often even get some for lunch.

We used one Tenkara Hane and two Tenkara Yagi (with the upper parts of the GG LT4 as handles) and were equally successful in little creeks and big lakes.


Edited by Orienteering on 09/08/2011 17:27:31 MDT.