Tenkara Carp Fishing with Donavan Clary

A reoccurring theme on this blog is that of curiosity.  Anglers are explorers first and we seek adventure in not only the species we pursue but where and also in the methods employ to do the catching.  We are endlessly curious about the ways to get a hook in a fish’s mouth.  There’s lots of ground we’ve covered already with carp: Carp on the fly from multiple angles, conventional carp fishing, carp fishing on Gyeonji, so why not try catching carp on a Tenkara rod?


First of all what is Tenkara?  Per Wikipedia: Tenkara fly fishing is a traditional type of fishing practiced in Japan. Primarily used for mountain stream trout fishing, tenkara is one of the most popular methods of angling among fresh-water mountain anglers in Japan.  Tenkara rods resemble the long, flexible construction used in fly rods to help cast line rather than lures.  You will often find overlap among fly fishing enthusiasts and those who take to Tenkara.  What’s missing here however is the reel.  Tenkara rods are fixed line, meaning you have no drag to rely to help tire your catch.

If you’ve ever caught a carp, especially of decent size, you may already be skeptical.  Carp are some of the strongest fighting freshwater fish, renown for their powerful runs that will snap lines or even pull in your entire rod and reel in your lake or river if you’re not attentive.  I’ve brought a few reels to an early demise over the years from all the abuse the drag would endure getting them to shore.  Fly anglers love catching carp as one of the fish they can rely on taking them into their backing which doesn’t happen as much chasing trout, panfish, or bass.  So what makes someone think that using a fixed line fly rod is an appropriate or even potentially successful way to catch carp?  It sounded like a heartbreak in the making but following some of Donavan Clary’s catches of carp on the fly, I noticed he was doing this successfully on Tenkara.  Donavan has been a fly fishing guide guide in Oklahoma chasing trout, striper, and gar for over 20 years. Donavan has also done Carp fishing trips and is offering carp on Tenkara trips specifically too.  I was fascinated and had to learn more and he was happy share more of his methods behind the madness in the below guest post.

Carp on tenkara.  It is possible. It is fun. It is very fun. I started fly fishing at 8 years old in the Ozark mountains for trout. Over the span of 37 years, I’ve chased dozens of fresh water species with a fly rod and several saltwater species.
Lately, Carp are my obsession and what I’ve been learning how to catch over the past 6 years. Carp are unbelievably smart. They fight like crazy and are a challenge like no other I’ve encountered. Early last year I was challenged by a close friend to catch and land a carp over 10# on a new tenkara rod.  A challenge I accepted with a smile all the while worrying about on the inside.

I had bought two tenkara rods to play with a few months before and had not even taken them out of their tubes. After accepting the challenge I started researching carp on tenkara and planning my attack on the carp at the local carp hole!

I tied several patterns that I knew would work. I found several common carp and one smaller mirror feeding on a shallow flat.
I approached and made my presentation, the first fish took my fly and in a few short seconds, broke me off and robbed me of my fly. Over the next few weeks I kept attempting to land a trophy carp on a tenkara rod. I’ve learned how to do it and I love it!

I stress the fact I’m completely new at carp on tenkara. I have hooked and lost far more than I have landed but I have caught, and taught others how to do it and I’m going to share it with you.

1. The biggest factor is fish. You have to have fish if you are going to catch one.
2. Setting. Keep in mind you don’t have extra line or a drag system to help you. You are going to have to locate carp in a setting you have the advantage. Away from structure of any kind. In an area you can chase them down and fight them.
3. Gear. You need good high quality tippet and leaders. I’m a fan of fluorocarbon and believe it benefits me. That being said, I have caught a lot of carp with monofilament and wouldn’t pass up using it if that’s what I had available.
4. Your approach is key. Don’t alert the fish. Get your fly to them without spooking them is half the challenge.
5. Hooking up and catching up is crucial. When a big fish makes a run, you have to be able to take chase and tire the fish out. Without losing your fly.

All of your common carp flies will work on tenkara. Standard tenkara rods designed for carp will catch carp. The challenge is getting close enough to present the fly and then staying hooked up.

Everyone who fly fishes needs to chase carp. Everyone who carp fishes needs to try catching one on a tenkara rod.
Carp on the fly is cool! Carp on the fly using a tenkara rod… There’s nothing cooler!

If you’re interested in booking Donavan for a fly fishing trip in Oklahoma, check out his Facebook page.  If you’re looking to get a carp on the fly yourself, on Tenkara even, check out his other page for more information.


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Patrick Ritter

Patrick Ritter is the founder of River King Fishing, LLC.  Raised near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the outdoors, especially fishing, has always been a passion.