Tenkara Academy

What is the BVICO Tenkara Academy?

Tenkara (ten-ka-ra; テンカラ) is a minimalist form of fly fishing that hails from Japan but is now growing in popularity in the United States because it is lightweight, very effective, and, yet, simple. Boulder Valley ICO offers on an ongoing basis a Tenkara Academy that teaches tenkara flycasting and fly tying on a range of outings. Graduates of the academy are eligible to purchase top-quality Tenkara USA equipment at a very steeply discounted price so that they and their families can enjoy tenkara on their own. Graduates are also able to purchase flies and fly-tying supplies from Rocky Mountain Anglers at a 15% discount. The graduation requirements for the BVICO Tenkara Academy and the enrollment form are found here. Each outing posted to the BVICO website will indicate whether it counts toward the graduation requirements for this academy. 

How Can I Learn Tenkara Flycasting Quickly?

The single best resource for learning Tenkara is a book by the founder of Tenkara USA that can be borrowed (by participants and volunteers, alike) from Boulder Valley ICO gear depot once it has been stocked. Key skills can also be learned from the videos linked below. Tenkara flycasting relies on a small, articifical fly that is attached to a short length of thin, clear cord called "tippet" that is then connected to a thicker, opaque cord called the "line". There are two types of line; Boulder Valley ICO uses both level line and braided line. The line is then attached to a long, telescoping rod. 

Connecting the fly to the tippet.

Connecting the tippet to the line

Connecting the line to the rod

Casting

The Basic Tenkara Cast

The Tenkara Cast of Japanese Masters

Notes:

  • Remember to keep your elbow down.
  • Also, there is a brief pause at the top of the cast that allows time for the tippet to travel up. If your line is snagging on itself, it's likely because you're not pausing or pausing long enough. Try to count "One" on the upstroke, "And" for the pause, and "Two" for the cast. The upstroke and cast should both be decisive but controlled. At first, the pause can be sudden and distinct but, with practice, it can become so gradual that it doesn't seem like a separate step. Instead, the rod just slows down and reverses direction. Watch the Japanese Masters video, above, and you'll see.
  • Cast like you are trying to throw paint off a paintbrush to a point about 1 foot above the point at which you hope your fly to land. This means stopping the downstroke well before the rod is pointing at the place that you hope the fly to land. Again, watch the Japanese Masters video, above -- you'll see that they stop their cast at the 1:30 or 2:00 position. If you're getting it right, the line will completely unfurl in the air and then drop gently to the water, fly first. The goal, of course, is for the fly to land gently on the water.
  • Once the fly is in the water, you can let it drift or you can gently pulse the rod to make the fly "swim". If you have casted upstream, lift the rod tip as the fly floats toward you so that the line is more-or-less straight. You don't need tension on the line but it can't be gathering up in the water or else you'll miss the take, and the fish will spit out the hook before you set the hook. Tenkara rods are very sensitive, so you'll normally feel when the fish takes your hook.
  • To set the hook, a quick, small tug is sufficient. If you yank too hard, you'll either break the rod, your tippet, or else send your fish flying into a tree. 
  • To land the fish, gently lift the rod tip up and back behind you. The rod will flex (a lot) as the fish fights; that's okay; that's what you want. When the line is within reach of your other hand, take the line gently between two fingers and continue pulling the fish to hand (or net). If the fish pulls hard during this stage, let the line slip through your fingers a bit as it pulls. It's easy for the fish to throw the hook or break the tippet if you have a death-grip on the line at this point because you no longer have the flex of the rod to absorb sudden force. Just keep gently pulling the fish to hand (or net); as the fish tires, it will come to hand (or net) with less fuss.
  • If the hook is deep in the mouth of the fish, use the forceps (the things that look a bit like scissors) to grab the hook and gently remove it. If the hook has a barb, push down and back for it to more easily release. If you just push/pull back, the barb will catch and make removal difficult.

How Can I Learn Fly Tying Quickly?

The best way to learn fly tying is to attend a class. Rocky Mountain Anglers offers free beginner's fly tying classes during certain times of year. Free fly tying classes at Rocky Mountain Anglers are also available to volunteers and participants in our Tenkara Academy. Videos explaining how to tie the flies that we commonly use are linked below.

Here are some videos that review basic fly-tying skills:

You Need a License if You are 16 Years Old or Older

Those 16 or older require a Colorado Fishing License. The cost of licenses is described here; the annual license is the best option for those participating in the Tenkara Academy or who are regularly volunteering with Boulder Valley ICO. In Boulder, licenses can be purchased from McGuckin Hardware, Rocky Mountain Anglers, Front Range Anglers, and Sport Authority. Please be sure to bring proof of Colorado residency in order to qualify for the steep discount available to Colorado residents. Each state requires its own fishing license. You can purchase those licenses online: Wyoming | Utah | Nebraska | Montana

Other Resources

The Boulder Valley ICO Tenkara Academy is a partnership with Tenkara USA, Rocky Mountain Anglers, and Boulder Flycasters (the Boulder chapter of Trout Unlimited). The organizations, their websites, and their people are excellent resources for information fly fishing in general and tenkara in particular. 

Countless books on the subject are also available at the Boulder Public Library. Our PowerPoint presentation on "reading the water" is here.

Those who enjoy tenkara or other forms of flycasting are encouraged to join Boulder Flycasters because their work helps improve and protect water quality and riparian habitat upon which this sport depends.

Volunteers: Please login for more information (below).