Wot, no fly reel?

Forget karate, when it comes to Japanese martial arts, fly fishing is where it’s at.


The Japanese art of reel-free fishing
Image: Shutterstock

Take one basic fly pattern, a lightweight line and a telescopic rod and you’re in business. ‘Wot no reel?’ we hear you say. Well that’s right, this ultra minimalist form of fly fishing is fly reel free.

The ancient Japanese art of Tenkara has been practised by fishermen since at least the 1600s when it was first observed by Westerners. In reality, it’s probably much older – and like a lot of Japanese customs, it’s all about perfection.

Tenkara fly fishing gear

tenkara equipment

Tenkara fishing kit
Image: Shutterstock

Western fly fishing has evolved into a sport that relies heavily on fishing gear. That’s not to say that technique isn’t vitally important, just that fly lines, rods and reels, not to mention the flies themselves are constantly evolving. Fashions change. That’s not really the case with Tenkara.

Tenkara fishermen use just the one basic fly in three or four sizes and a couple of colours. The emphasis is on learning to adapt that fly to all conditions by perfecting the art of presentation.

The rods are traditionally made from bamboo, but these days, a three or four ounce, 10 – 15 foot telescopic carbon fiber rod is standard. Ideal for hiking to fast flowing mountain streams, the lightweight line is attached to a tippet and fished out of the water.

Reel free future

With such light gear, hooking a fish of any size requires very careful handling – be prepared to follow the fish.

The sport has a growing following in the US and is starting to catch on here in the UK too. If you want to see what it looks like – here’s a video from Tenkara USA:

You could say that Tenkara is to fly fishing, what sushi is to seafood. Not to everyone’s taste but certainly worth a try.