First American Tenkara Fly Swap

History has been made. The first American Tenkara Fly Swap has gone down. This swap (which actually finished up a few weeks ago) was, as far as we know, the first of its kind in the States– as it was focused on Tenkara flies. Most of you are probably familiar with Tenkara by now. But in case you are not, briefly, Tenkara is a Japanese style of fly fishing, which is characterized primarily by the Tenkara rod. The Tenkara rod is a long, telescoping rod, which is used without a reel. The fly line, which is very light, may be level, or tapered mono(fluorocarbon or nylon) or furled. The rod is extremely limber, so much so that I would say that the rod itself acts in a similar manner to a traditional western fly line. What I mean is that the nature of the rod allows the angler to cast the ultra-light, leader-like line in a way that no western fly rod could – you really need to see it to understand it. This Tenkara Fly Swap was facilitated through the Forums at TenkaraUSA.  For a list of Tenkara resources check out the links at the bottom of the page.

In addition to the unique “reel-less” fly rod, Tenkara is also characterized by its fly selection. Many Tenkara flies are characterized by their forward swept hackle, others by their simple thread bodies and mid-section placed hackle – both of these styles were represented in the swap. Other Tenkara flies are very similar to western style wingless wet-flies, and soft-hackles. For a great primer on the various Tenkara fly styles check out Yoshikazu Fujioka’s My Best Streams website.

I’ve read that many Tenkara anglers in Japan have a unique “signature” fly that serves as a sort of calling card.  This is a pretty cool idea. I don’t know if I’m quite there yet – but I’m working on it. My contribution to this swap is a reverse-hackle version of my current go-to fly; the brown-hackle peacock wet-fly (bottom left corner in pic below).

I do find Tenkara’s history and traditions interesting – however that is not what I find most exciting about Tenkara. The idea that I find most interesting and promising is the idea of fusion – that is the fusion of American fly fishing and Tenkara. Great things happen when good ideas collide, mingle, mash-up, and cross-pollinate. Just think of American music. Jazz, blues, country, rock-and-roll…these musical forms were made possible by the Petri dish that is America. The results of these collisions are unpredictable, that’s what makes it so exciting. Who could have predicted Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Muddy Waters and Elvis, when looking at the disparate musical cultures that were coming together in the American South?

I already see that synergy and fusion happening with Tenkara when I look at the flies in this swap. The American fly tyer will see the Tenkara fly through his own unique lens, tempered by his unique fly fishing environment, fly fishing needs and fly fishing experiences. The result is bound to be unique. Take a look at the flies in the picture – in addition to the obvious eastern influence, you’ll see glimpses of the Adirondacks, the American West, the English chalk stream, the Scottish burn. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Some Tenkara Resources:

6 Comments on First American Tenkara Fly Swap

  1. Jack aka jayfisher // February 10, 2011 at 2:41 AM // Reply

    “The idea that I find most interesting and promising is the idea of fusion – that is the fusion of American fly fishing and Tenkara.”


    I agree with you one hundred percent about why this experiment that we’re involved in is fascinating. For example, my fly (bottom, second from left and next to your fly) evolved from one of my standard Western go-to flies. The difference is that the herl is in front of the hackle and the hackle is pointed forward. Anyone looking at before and after fly could clearly trace its evolution.

    Great blog and beautiful photos! Thank you.

    -Jack (aka jayfisher)

  2. Jack,

    Thanks for the comments – it’s nice to know I’m not alone in these thoughts about Tenkara Fusion. Nice fly by the way.

  3. I think I can tell who tied a few of those flies, just by looking at them!
    I am bummed I missed this swap. It’s been a while since I have been a part of one..

what say you?