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How to Choose Your Tenkara Fly

A diagram of a tenkara fly.

The tenkara approach to fly-fishing is unique compared to Western fly-fishing in that the tenkara angler places more emphasis on the technique to catch fish and less on choosing flies for tenkara rods.

I typically start fishing with whatever fly I already have tied to the end of my tenkara line, given that my tippet is ok upon checking it. If no fly has been tied onto your tenkara line, here are some rules of thumb that can help with how to choose flies for tenkara fly-fishing:
- Size 12 flies are a good starting point, not too big, not too small. The Amano and Ishigaki are our easy go-to flies for tenkara fly-fishing.
- Larger flies will be more easily seen by fish, so they may be good for faster-running water. The Oki is a great fly choice for most tenkara rods and tenkara lines when the water is running a bit fast, or perhaps if it is a bit murky.
- Size 16 tenkara flies, the smallest we carry, like the Takayama, tend to be good when nothing else seems to have worked. Or, if you notice fish might be rising very subtly to the water’s surface and perhaps even coming for your big flies on your visible line but not taking them.

We only carry and highly recommend using only barbless hooks on your tenkara flies. The tenkara rods are very good at keeping tension on the tenkara lines, keeping the line off the water, and keeping the flies hooked. Barbless hooks are much easier to remove from fish, but also from thumbs, eyes and clothing.

If in doubt about choosing flies for tenkara rods, just tie whatever tenkara fly comes to your fingers and start casting your tenkara line. As Dr. Ishigaki will tell us, "any fly is ok".