Fridays on the Fly: Jason Sparks Talks Tenkara

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I love hearing all the chatter about tenkara rods and lines these days. Just two years ago the conversations focused on a few different ‘types’ of readily available rods. I’m not talking about brands. What I’m referring to are the functions of rods and the design characteristics built into them. There are nine-foot rods, fifteen-foot rods, and zoom rods with three lengths built in.

The talking points here could go in the direction of size or description of waters or species targets—from “smallmouth bass to native brookies to steelhead.” These conversations are great. The depth of knowledge gained and shared on these matters grows each year. As a result, our understanding and adaptation of this Japanese form of fly fishing has gown substantially. Once you learn some basics about tenkara you can begin to dial into your own interest and figure out where you want to go with it. But where do you start?

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I realize that there are opinions and advice coming from all angles on this one. The groups of tenkara anglers have always done an excellent job at welcoming “newbies” and coaching them with good intentions.

For brand choices there will be the “buy a starter kit” crowd and the “buy the best you can afford” group as well as the “get a warranty” bunch. I think that is all good stuff to talk about. These conversations quickly get to the questions of: 1. “What type of water do you fish in?” 2. “What type of fish do you fish for?”

That is a good direction for the conversation because it offers the most help for someone starting out and helps them make a better informed decision for their purchase.

But you can’t address all of this in a thirty second elevator speech about tenkara. When I am giving tenkara presentations on the question of which rod or which line to choose always, and I mean always, comes up. I offer my email address and encourage everyone to send specific questions. I share brand and review and forum and Facebook sites so people can track down their own intel.

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I direct them toward tenkara friendly guides and fly shops throughout the Appalachians. I begin asking them targeted questions about bodies of water, fly hook sizes, depth, flow rate, fish size, etc.

But all of that may be too much information for a beginner. If they are brand new to fishing, they may have never heard or considered those questions before. I see this often when I ask about “warm water or cold water”, “bass or trout”, etc. That big question mark always pops up in a bubble above their head.

I’ve added a slide this year to my presentation deck that gets to the nitty gritty. It’s called the “Rule of 12’s”. It is nothing more than a nifty guide designed to stick in the beginners head and help him or her along the way. Even if they don’t recall anything else, this will still be there to help them. If you are brand new to fly fishing and and looking to break in with tenkara,remember this:  Twelve foot rod.  Twelve foot line.  Twelve (size) fly—12/12/12.  That will get you started.

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Take ALL the other chatter out of the conversation. Forget about specifics of waters or species.  In the basic elements of tenkara fly fishing let’s just use the 12/12/12 as a starting point. Simple and done. I can fish most waters and species along the Blue Ridge with the 12/12/12 rig. A 12 foot rod is incredibly versatile and capable.

These 12 foot rods have a sweet spot for fish in the 10 to16 inch range and routinely land trout at 20 inches without problems. It’s a good idea to use a line roughly the length of the rod, so a twelve foot line fits right in there. I teach with and suggest “furled Kevlar” for a starter line for several reasons, including durability, zero stretch, and ease of casting.

The third leg of this is fly size. We’ve bantered back and forth on fly sizes for years. Within the growing community of tenkara anglers the general consensus leans toward a size twelve fly. Remember, we are paring the whole system down to “easy to start” components, and I’m sure that a handful of number 12 flies will do the job.  With a handful of number 12 sakasa kebari Japanese styled flies I would be confident on any body of water.

Use the “rule of 12’s” when embarking on your next tenkara adventures.

Jason Sparks, Appalachian Tenkara Anglers

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