Fishing with your Tenkara rod is simple. Cast like you would a normal fly rod on a river, but with less effort or force. Be gentle and you find that your flies lands softly and with great accuracy.
You will be able to do most of the casts that you can with a normal fly rod (sorry, no double hauling). Cast a normal stroke, a side stroke, steeple cast or roll cast.
Of these all, the roll cast is most useful as you can flick your fly back into position as it comes near you. This enables you have your fly on the water for more time during the day, as you are no longer false casting. The only time you will false cast is to perhaps dry a fly.
Grip your Tenkara rod using a standard thumb grip (like golfers do) or with the pointy-finger grip, but this is less popular and can create fatigue. Cast with your wrist, rather than your arm, but holding you arm out forward will get you some extra reach, but will be more tiring.
Presenting your fly is far better as it will land softer as you do not have the energy of a fly line dissipating towards the fly which can cause some serious fly splatting.
You should able to fish a dry fly without any drag as there is no fly line or leader on the water. This is important, so I am going to repeat it. You can fish a dry fly without any drag. The only drag you should experience is the wind's effect on the leader. Should you experience this you can always change the leader.
Fishing pocket water but from further back and without drag has some advantages. You are not going to spook a fish with an indelicate splatting of your fly or line. Fish will not be circumspect about a fly that is behaving strangely. Most importantly, being further back means that the fish has less chance of spotting you.
Having said that, it does not mean you should fish without caution. The angler who takes care to wade carefully, avoids flashy things on their jacket and takes care to hide, will be far more successful.
Traditionally the Japanese Tenkara flies are fished underwater with an up and down motion that creates the allusion of life in the fly as the hackles open and close. This motion is maintained through the drift and does require some practice.
When you are starting out, use a white fly above the fly you are fishing and that will serve as an indicator, showing you more or less how the fly below is behaving.
Fishing with a standard fly set-up is perfectly acceptable even if it not traditional. After all the reason you are fishing the set-up is most likely it's ease and simplicity. On the other hand you could go the whole Zen way.
Showing off the fly 'Sutebari', is a traditional technique that could be considered 'teasing the fish'. Essentially, the fly is shown to a fish a few times, but just out of his range but within sight. Then it presented in a spot where the fish hardly has to move to take it. There is a wonderful explanation and diagram on Yoshikazu Fujioka website 'Trout and Seasons of The Mountain Village' It is worth a visit.
Using a similar technique to the one above, one can tease the fish with a fly that hovers above the water then settles on it. This is very similar to dapping, and a lightweight level leader can be used instead of a tapered one.
UP & DOWN
The most common technique used in Tenkara fishing is manipulating the fly by moving the rod tip up and down. This is usually done just below the water surface, but is also used deeper in the water column.
Moving the rod tip and down slightly has the effect of opening and closing the hackles of a Tenkara style fly, thereby giving it life. In the words of Yoshikazu Fujioka "we are transforming the fly to attractive bait and sharpening a trout's appetite".
This technique can be used with any kind of nymph as well, even if it doesn’t have hackles. It also trains you to keep in contact with the fly in case there is a take you do not see.
STANDARD FLY FISHING TECHNIQUES
If you prefer not to fish in the traditional Japanese or Tenkara style, you can fish your normal fly fishing methods using a Tenkara rod. It will still be more effective at closer ranges and in pocket water than your standard setup
Dry + nymph
Where to stand
Playing & netting a fish
Landing fish may take a bit of getting used to. When you have a fish on, the rod is bent which means the 'line' and tippet are much longer than the rod, so unless you have long arms, you are in a 'situation'. Firstly, let the fish run up or downstream, you do not want a fresh fish at your feet. Once ready, encourage the fish to pass you, and net it as it does. For small fish, grab the 'line' with your free hand as the fish passes, and then transfer the line to your rod hand. Your free hand is then slid down the leader until you reach the fish.
Step back, rod high arm up till you have control of line in other hand.
Please say thank you to the fish and release it