Shimano has published a wonderful instructional video on fishing with tenkara rods. It features Dr. Ishigaki, who is one of the most celebrated Japanese tenkara masters. I was forwarded the video by a good Japanese friend of mine. I have spent some time studying the video and would like to share my thoughts of what I have learned about tenkara casting.
Backcast is the most basic cast for any fishing methods and tenkara is no exception. Backcast with tenkara rod is a no brainer for fly fishers, but having the fly land on water first before the line will need some practice.
Unlike holding the grip like a fly fisher would do with a fly rod, most of tenkara fishers prefer holding the rod grip with the index finger pointing up. I have learned that pointing up index finger would help me to get more control on the forward casts. With the finger pointing up, this method creates a three point contacts to the rod; it helps the rod to become more stable during the cast because tenkara tip sections are more flexible than a fly rod. Many tenkara fishers like to have their index finger up on top of the grip. Personally I like the index finger point up on the side of the grip because it feels more natural to me and also for ergonomic reasons. Having the index finger on the side, I feel it is reduce stress on my wrist. Holding index finger on the top puts more pressure on the wrist.
Dr. Ishigaki, a Japanese tenkara master, holding tenkara rod grip.
Tenkara rod is long and the tip section is lot more flexible than fly rod. As a result, it could feel a little "bouncy" for some experienced fly fishers. In order to have better control of the cast, fishers need to be in a stable position. It can be archived by spreading the legs in casting direction or the direction of the stream flow.
Good backcast is very import but most fly casters would focus more on forward cast. Like fly casting, backcast needs more speed and pointing upward so forward cast would be easier and prevent the rod tip dipping which causes piling up of the line. Frank Harris, a member of Diablo Fly Fishers, pointed out to me, "Going down is easier and higher backcast would prevent the tailing loop". Chris Korich, a world champ fly caster says, "It is all about gravity. It needs more energy to get up and less energy on forward cast". Dr. Ishigaki prefers about 45 degree on the backcast.
Tenkara fishers cast with a very short line. It is about 1.25 x the rod length plus about 4 ft (1.2m) of tippet line. Because the line is short, distant casting is not an issue. Stop the rod at the high noon is the best backcast position.
Tenkara fishing is not about distant casts. It is about casting accuracy and controlling the fly. In order to control the fly, there should a direct contact between the rod tip and fly. If the line is resting on water, the current flow would take over the control of the fly. By keeping the rod tip high on forward cast, it would help the line of water. 2 or 2:15 is an ideal.
Forward cast stop position. Personally, I would stop around 1:30 .