24 April 2011

Tenkara and the San Gabriel

Not all fly fishing was created equal.  More and more fly fishing is diversifying.  Its many styles, techniques gaining popularity and press.  Spey, switch, tenkara, European techniques have all but gone mainstream.  I had the chance to get my hands on a tenkara rod last week and try it out on some light water.

Tenkara was developed in Japan centuries ago but is recently seeing increasing popularity worldwide.  Tenkara translates approximately from Japanese as “heavenly.”  Older tenkara rods were known as Ke Ryo Sao, high mountain rod.  Tenkara rods are long, 11-15 feet is usual.  They telescope down to less than 24” – perfect for backpacking, travel, etc.  (If the rod is too long for a certain area it can be partially collapsed and is still effective. 

Tenkara rods are long and nimble - these rods nymph with the best.
 A braided or furled nylon line drops directly from the fine tip of the rod.  Strike detection and hook sets involve a bit of a learning curve, as does handling 13 feet of rod on tight streams, but once that’s down catching and landing fish comes quickly.  After hooking a fish, lifting the rod tip brings the fish closer to you.  The supple rod tip protects light tippet as the fish nears you.  Smaller fish can be lifted and swung.  I haven’t yet caught any fish over 12” and was skeptical as to how the rod set up would handle something with a little weight.  It is clear the rods can handle just about anything.  Long rods allow for vertical pressure on the fish, the gentle rod tip lets the fish fight and tires it out quickly.  I’m not about to replace all I own with tenkara rods, but they’ll stay on my mind.

Traditional tenkara flies are sparse dries with reversed furled hackle.
This foam beetle caught plenty however.
I took the tenkara up to San Antonio creek to try it out and was very impressed.  I fished both dries and nymphs and had success of both.  Saturday I was at the west fork of the San Gabriel with friends.  It’s an amazing stream above the town of Azusa.  Access is made a lot easier with a bike, as a gate prevents car access to the C&R section a few miles up from the main road.  The second bridge past the gate marks the C&R and from there to the dam above the fishing is superb.

Where the canopy drops the trees sport some jewelry.
The water is amazingly clear.  Deep pools hold fish of all sizes, fingerlings to teens.  If you can dodge the brush, upstream drifts to slower water and seams are often rewarded.

Fellow fisher with a 5m tenkara.
I stuck to this dandy 2wt.  Caddis dries and pupa produced all day.
I don't have much experience with light gear but this 2wt was a treat.  I was impressed with its accuracy and strike detection.

A doe and fawn didn't mind some company on the water. 

Cold, clear, oxygenated water is great for bugs... and fish. 

All in all it was a great day on the San Gabriel.  I heard one man say it's the the furthest you can get from LA in 45 minutes.

For more on tenkara:


  1. Great photos and nice report. Looking forward to many more!