Tenkara Presentations: The Dead Drift Explained

Zen Tenkara is often associated with extreme tenkara fishing, saltwater tenkara fishing and big fish on tenkara but at the heart of our company is traditional tenkara that targets trout in the crystal clear mountain streams of Colorado. While we design rods for big fish hunting, we also design rods that are perfect for our small stream home water. The way you work a shrimp pattern, clouser, crab, streamer or nymph setup is different than how you work a reverse hackle Sakasa Kebari (commonly known as a tenkara fly)pattern. So, in the next few newsletters I’ll provide a short explanation of several traditional tenkara presentations designed for the Japanese tenkara fly.
The Dead Drift is the most basic beginners presentation and the most commonly used. The goal of this presentation is to get your fly out on the water, above where you think a fish may be sitting, and drift the fly by the fish in the most delicate fashion – creating no disturbance on the water surface and achieving what fly anglers refer to as a “drag-free” drift.
In order to do this in the most effective manner, the cast is soft, the fly is aimed to land approximately 4-6 ft above the fish’s location with all line kept off the water and only the fly touching the surface. This ensures no ripples, splashes or other disturbance that could alarm or frighten the fish.
Then, with the line kept off the water, the angler “follows” the fly with the rod tip kept high, as far as it can drift in the current, based on the length of your line. At which point, you pick the fly up off the water and recast above where the fish is holding and repeat the process.
The dead drift presentation can be used upstream from the fish or downstream of the fish – just remember not to bonk the fish on the head with the fly. Cast your line so that the fly lands in the water several feet away from where you think the actual take will occur, then let the fly drift into position to where the fish is holding.
This presentation is supposed to mimic a dead insect on the water surface. It’s probably the most prolific presentation fly anglers use and one that is ideally suited for a tenkara rod with it’s long reach and short line. While it sounds rather simple, execution of the “drag-fee” drift does take practice. Simple doesn’t always equate to easy but with a little time on the water with your tenkara rod, you’ll be carefree and drifting free.

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