Tenkara USA and its fans have been sensitive from the beginning to tenkara being characterized as “dapping.” They object because the term suggests tenkara fishing doesn’t involve casting. It does, of course – true fly-casting, with the line traveling in tight loops and the fly just going along for the ride.
T-USA has even sprung for magazine ads with the headline, “Tenkara Is Not Dapping.”
That’s truer than most people know. Real dapping is done with a telescoping rod typically 17 feet long, fitted with a fly reel, a center-pin reel or even a spinning reel. (Tenkara rods are also telescoping and long, but not that long.) The running line is 10-pound-test mono, which snakes up through the core of the rod and out the tip. (Tenkara lines are affixed to the rod tip.) The mono is attached to several feet of blowline, which is an ultra-light floss that sails in the breeze. On the other end of the blowline is a tippet, and tied to that is a fly. The whole rig may weigh two pounds.
There is no casting. You let the breeze take the blowline and lower the rod when you want the fly to fall to the water. It’s usually done from rowboats held perpendicular to the wind on lakes in Ireland and Scotland.
I learned all this in a superb book called “Dapping” by Robert H. Boyle, a former writer for Sports Illustrated, stonefly expert and lion of the environmental movement who has been instrumental in halting awful ideas on the Hudson River and now, at 83, is helping lead the opposition to fracking in New York.
“The fly is carried by the wind, and in response to the dapper’s movements of he rod, gently alights, sits with feathers and fibers twitching, tantalizingly dances and prances across the surface, and if no strike results, takes to the air where it seductively hovers before landing again to start the cycle anew, its antics exactly like that of a living creature doing what comes naturally,” Boyle writes. “No fly caster, no matter how gifted, can make a fly put on such a performance.”
Of course, you can dap with a tenkara rod, sort of. If it’s real windy, just lift the rod and let the wind grab the line. In fact, if it’s that windy, you may have no other choice. But you can’t cast a dapping rod.
What most people in the U.S. think of as dapping is really just the short game that all fly-fishers, with or without reels, have always played: flicking your fly to nearby spots without using much line. You can definitely do that with a tenkara rod – and much more.
“Dapping: The Exciting Way of Fishing Flies that Fly, Quiver and Jump” is published by Stackpole Books and retails for $24.95. It’s a delightful and fascinating book about a form of fly-fishing most Americans know nothing about, and I highly recommend it.