Tenkara Casting and Rods

I handled a lot of Tenkara rods from early models, that cast like a wet noodle, to rods which were much more in the "Hane" category of telescopic rods. These cast more like a broom handle. Here's the thing though, every one of them could put out a line if you used good technique.

Technique is going to effect how any rod performs far more than the dynamics of the rod itself. A proper understanding of how your casting technique is translated to the loop formation and line speed will allow you to adjust your technique to cast virtually any rod with reasonable effectiveness.

This is where it gets interesting.

Once you have good technique you start to notice the nuances in the rod design that make a difference. Here are some of the key points I think about when casting:

  1. The back cast is more important than the forward cast. The line is anchored and you have a little resistance to work against. Capitalise on it for greater line speed.
  2. Soften the grip after the stop. Perhaps even allowing a slight drift of the hand, but get a crisp "stop" first.
  3. Keep the casting stroke short. You only need to move as much as the rod bends. Much more is wasted effort. The casting curve of the rod will propel the line much faster than you can wave your arm.
  4. Stop waving your arm about! A well designed rod is far more effective than you can be at imparting power. Keep your elbow in and movement to a minimum.
  5. Be careful not to use too much wrist. It'll make your casting stroke too big and much less powerful. You'll also struggle to get the crisp stops you need.
  6. Make sure you get a hammer tap, crisp stop on both the forward and back cast.

Those are my top six. Let me come back to the second point and give a little more explanation. Softening the grip after the stop of the forward cast allows the rod to smoothly complete it's recovery. Even on a wet noodle of a rod you can cancel out a lot of the wobbling, after the cast, using this technique.

You'll never completely stop the tip vibrating unless you're an Olympic class pistol shooter with zero tremble in your hand. The line and fly in the water will dampen it some more for you. This is one reason why testing a rod without a line is pretty pointless. You can get an idea of the balance but that's about it.

A rod that recovers well tracks a straight path and doesn't do some weird egg shaped oscillation. Yes, I've cast rods that that actively put a twist in your line because they can't load and unload on a single plane. Rods that don't recover well have accuracy issues and can't put out a straight line.

The line has to be considered when designing a rod. It's weight has an impact on recovery speed of the tip. Some rods that "over recover" without a line are majestically balanced with a #3 line. Over recovery has been described as a tip that bounces back so fast it "recoils" with a half bounce before settling straight.

Let's talk about "over recovery" a little more. Do you know the easiest way to combat such a fast acting rod? Easy. Soften your grip after the stop on the forward cast. As if by magic, that "over recovery" can disappear. Using a heavier line or weighted flies can also have the effect of negating the recoil. It depends on your fishing preferences what sort of recovery works best for you.

The question becomes, do you want a rod that recovers quickly, generates higher line speed and is capable of handling weighted flies? A versatile rod that can also cast a dry fly if you soften your grip to take out the recoil?

On the other hand, a softer rod will be more forgiving to softer stops and a tighter grip. It will cast an unweighted fly beautifully but be less accommodating to a little weight. I'm not saying this is less of a rod. I know fly fishermen who's technique is far better suited to a rod of this type. Provided it has been well designed with a good recovery, and not one of the wet noodles. I recognise there is a place for these rods.

So a 5:5 is softer than a 6:4 which is nothing like the fast tip of a 7:3 or the extreme of an 8:2. There has been a move away from using these descriptions. They describe how many parts of the rod flex and how many are stiff (stiff:flex). They don't tell you "how" that section flexes. Some rods have extreme tip flex which then smooths out. Other rods are more progressive in their curve. No two 6:4 rods are the same. You have to try them to know if it is right for you and your style of Tenkara.

Rod balance is important. A tip heavy rod is going to wear out your wrist very quickly and effect your days fishing. A rod with a heavy handle, which gives the impression of an extremely light tip, looses some of the feeling from the cast and the handling of the fly. It's easy to cast but lacks finesse when you need that accuracy. For me , it takes some of the "fun" factor out.

Handles have traditionally been cork and aesthetically they are great, if you can get the quality. They also vary in weight and hence effect the balance. Composite cork is heavier than cork and can be used in balancing. A firm EVA feels good and has a uniform weight. A longer handle gives more options for fishing slightly longer or shorter but increases the overall weight of the rod. It's tricky, but don't discount EVA handles until you've fished them in really cold conditions.

Tip swivels, are they necessary? You tend to see them on more expensive Japanese rods. Some say they serve no purpose, others say they are a great help. Some advanced roll casts put twists in the line. Some flies as they swim, spin. If occasionally you notice that your lillian is a bit twisted up the chances are you'd benefit from a rod with a swivel tip.

There you have it. Some of my thoughts on casting a Tenkara rod and rod design for you to consider when you're next looking for a new rod. These are my thoughts and I'm more than happy to debate or to hear what you think is important. Let's talk Tenkara!

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