Tenkara Nymphing Secrets from the Source
4 CommentsMonday, 15 April 2019 | Paul G
Tenkara Nymphing from the Source: Video and Illustrated Blog Guide with Shin Takahashi
The first fish I caught on a tenkara rod was with a dry caddis on a borrowed rod. Probably the next 200 or so fish were on euro nymph patterns with my own, first, tenkara rod (a TUSA Iwana) using “tenkara nymphing” tactics. BUT I didn’t start fishing “tenkara” until later – and that distinction is vital…This article aims to boost your success while nymphing by sharing tips, special interview video content and rigs. First let’s check out the video with “the man” Shin Takahashi (高橋伸)…
Tenkara nymphing on Tenkara in Focus Season 3 Ep1 (テンカラ ニンフィング" 高橋伸)
In Shin Takahashi’s interview below (and our “Field report” video and e-books covering his style), you can see how productive it can be to combine euro nymphing tactics with tenkara knowledge and gear. I’ve also put together some rig diagrams and descriptions further down in this article for you.
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Tenkara Nymphing: Getting the Best Results
A WARNING to the WISE: I only started to get real, additional, benefits for my nymph fishing AND my tenkara fishing when I began to learn Japanese tenkara. Don’t hate me for saying that – and try to look hard before deciding that can’t be true for you. OK, it does sound strange at first – but really it just comes down to the tried and tested idea of “cross training”.
I don’t care what sport or activity you’re in, the biggest pitfall to cross-training is having a poor understanding of any (or all) the different disciplines that you are combining. Cross training is not simply dicking around and creating a random “pick ‘n mix” of things that you fancy. So, although tenkara rods are great tools for fishing Euro nymphing tactics, you can improve your success by paying close attention to both competition nymphing and a wide range of Japanese tenkara techniques.
To make cross-training work best, you need a solid understanding of how one school of activity boosts your ability in another. To do that, you need to understand BOTH schools extremely well. Otherwise you end up relying on the strengths of one thing covering up a lack of ability in another area – and your progress hits a plateau (and you get bored/give up/move on to the next “shiny object”).
So (at the risk of over-emphasising the point)…
Don’t ignore the “Tenkara” in Tenkara nymphing
In case it is not obvious from the TiF Episode above, Shin Takahashi is a LEGIT tenkara angler (top few percentile) with an extensive, successful base in fishing Japanese tenkara tactics using unweighted kebari (Japanese tenkara flies).
It was his exceptional ability in tenkara and his natural desire to learn and improve that made him interested in seeking out information on the European competition methods of fishing in rivers. He read as much Euro nymphing and competition fishing material as he could get his hands on – as well as speaking to other top anglers who could help inform him. He recognised the skill, knowledge and achievement of those anglers in the West who had developed and tested competition nymphing tactics.
Then, using what he already knew about tenkara, he took the mechanics and flies of competition fishing methods and combined them all. The most important step in that was using his deep knowledge of FISH habits and rivers to design rigs and presentations using his combined knowledge and discoveries.
That is the most important thing – always work backwards from the fish to design effective tactics.
So – I urge you to learn about fish, rivers and authentic Japanese tenkara tactics as you can (you’ll find resources for all that on the Discover Tenkara site). As one, very simple – but very powerful – example: try combining named Japanese fly manipulation (sasoi) techniques with European nymphing, streamer fishing and even western dry fly fishing and see the results for yourself.
Tenkara nymphing gear
Takahashi-san’s rig in the video consists of a Japanese bait-fishing rod for medium-sized rivers (often called “keiryu rods”). His preferred tenkara nymphing model – the Diawa Sagiri - has a very sensitive action and is lockable at two different lengths (3.4m and 3.9m). Many sensitive-action tenkara rods or even specialist fly rods (rated AFTM #2 or less and 10ft+ in length) could be used for tenkara nymphing. Of course, the approach is more typically associated with “fixed line” rods – rather than rod & reel setups.
Another detail to note is that Takahashi san was only using the small “ball” shaped indicator for the benefit of his pupils who were standing some distance away on the opposite bank of the river.
Normally he would just take advantage of the dyed fluorocarbon tenkara level line to detect when a fish grabs his fly. The important thing to notice is that he is still treating the indicator as part of the natural curve of his tippet (often holding it off the water). He is NOT using it like a mop indicator or a “bobber” to suspend weighted nymphs.
It is much more like a marker or tracer for his line while he maintains gentle “contact” throughout his rig.
BTW – if you’re not totally clear on the idea of “contact” and how to keep your rig from rod tip to fly in the right position to maintain it at all times – you’ll really benefit from our free email tutorials.
Tenkara nymphing rigs vs Regular Euro nymphing rigs
OK, the differences are generally quite slight and this is natural given that folks like Takahashi-san have researched Euro nymphing and then applied it using their own gear. So, in place of both a knotted, tapered “French Leader” and braid or mono “indicator” section – you’ll find a coloured tenkara level line.
This provides both the casting turnover and a way to detect takes in the same way a section of indicator line would. For most folks a good “all round” general tenkara level line specification would be a coloured fluorocarbon line with a diameter rating of #3 on the Japanese scale. For greater sensitivity and reduced "drape otsuri" a #2.5 level line can be a great option. Takahashi-san likes to use an ultralight #2 Fluorocarbon level line for his tenkara and tenkara-nymphing. For Japanese line-sizes vs. diameters in mm – check our our handy conversion table by clicking onto our Tenkara Lines Guide page and scrolling down...
The line will generally be around the length of the rod – and then a tippet of between three to four feet for a single fly and around 5ft for two flies (where permitted by fishery rules). For two flies, a good “stand by” effective spacing is often around 3ft from the end of the tenkara casting line to the dropper and then another 2ft to the point or “tail” fly.
Since these tactics are generally used for difficult fish, tippet diameters in the 0.10 mm to 0.12 mm range are typical.
Tenkara nymphing flies
A strong influence of European competition nymphs made with small tungsten bead-heads is easy to see for tenkara nymphing tactics in Japan.
These are generally small and light with beads in the 2.5 to 2.8mm range – or else using slim underbodies of lead wire. Referring to good sources of information on small competition nymph patterns will keep you right on track (and you can discover Takahashi-san’s 6 favourite patterns in his Bundle). In his interiew, you will notice that he makes special mention of "Perdigon" nymphs too.
There is also a lot of potential to cross over into bead-head versions of Japanese tenkara flies (bead head kebari) with these tactics. That is really when developing a strong understanding of keiryu and honryu tenkara will help to keep your on-stream “game” strong and well-rounded.
Basic Methods for Tenkara Nymphing
Many of the features of good, basic “dead drift” tenkara tactics appear in both regular Euro nymphing and the closely-related tenkara nymphing styles. These include:
For that reason I really encourage you to avoid confusing these “tenkara nymphing” tactics with regular “tenkara”, because you’ll limit your success and scope to improve. If you decide that’s all there is to EITHER nymphing or tenkara, that leaves a big gap in your tactics toolbox.
If you want to steal some really sweet extra skills from Takahashi’s box of tricks (as well as his flies), then definitely check out his on-stream class and our e-book deep-dive analysis.
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