‘Flyakara’ – kayak tenkara on an English tarn

Charlie Jacoby

If kayak flyfishers are calling their sport flyaking – which is a hideous word IMHO that will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes – I can call tenkara flyfishing from a kayak ‘flyakara’.

What’s tenkara? It’s a bit of a craze, but it suits the catching of the small trout I like – and it’s more zen than normal flyfishing.

You have a wiggly and, crucially, cheap rod. No reel. The line is attached to a short thong at the top of the rod and the cast and fly attached to that.

The kayak is inflatable, and you can carry it in its own rucksack. Mine is a Gumotex Safari, which has made it over barbed wire fences and across rocks, and is still going strong. It is advertised for ‘lower grade whitewater and small wave surfing’. Frankly, I found it too lightweight for the sea. It scared me. Lakes, canals and rivers are fine. I have put a kit list at the bottom of this article. Also, don’t forget kayaking insurance.

I am fishing Seathwaite Tarn in the Lake District today, which you can fish for a £5 donation to Mountain Rescue, payable at the local pub. It is only a mile-and a-half from the road – but that’s a long way for me when I am fully laden with my 15kg (35lb) of flyakara kit. The first, welcome sight of Seathwaite Tarn is the dam.

Setting up is easy. Pump up the kayak. Tackle up. The rucksack doubles as a drybag, because you are going to get wet in this kayak, so stuff everything in the bag and put it in the back of the boat. Then you are fishing.

Zen calm: fishing Seathwaite Tarn

The main difference between this and ordinary flyfishing is that everything has to happen within the length of your rod plus your line, about six metres in my case, so I have to spend time – and be calm – getting in position. That’s like deciding only to shoot rabbits at exactly 15 yards.

The advantages of tenkara are: the price compared to other fishing rods, it’s a fabulously lightweight rod – it goes in a pocket – and it stops you over-reaching yourself with a cast. The disadvantages are that it can’t catch big fish – anything over a pound would give my rod a hard time. Plus you have to be careful winding up your line for carrying it or, when you are ready to fish, you get in a tangle.

Due to my advancing years, I bought a monocle

Out on the water, fish are rising. I am making life even more difficult for myself by fishing dry fly – almost dapping it in the wind. A nymph would probably catch more fish.

The kayak drifts broadside with the wind, which is handy, so all you have to do is get upwind of a rising trout. Cast. And then it happens.

The little fish taks the Gray Wulff from underneath with hardly a ripple, and it’s off, streaking left and right. At just a few ounces, it is not much of a fight – but the excitement of that magical illusion – tricking a fish into taking an artificial fly – is exquisite.

The fish comes to the boat

If your line is longer than your rod, you have to handline it in. It’s all over in a few seconds. A small trout it may be – too small to keep, but it is a marvel of blue and silver. I slide it back into the water.

At the end of the day, I land, pump the air out of my kayak so I can fold it and fit it back into its rucksack and walk back down the hill. Maybe its the downhill – maybe its the fishing. Both the pack and my heart feel lighter.

You can also flyakara Devoke Water, the Lake District’s largest tarn, which is stocked. Buy a ticket from Millom Anglers

Like the big lakes, many of the Lake District’s tarns are free to fish. The cost of the kayak, though… well, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man flyakara, he will probably go hungry – but he will enjoy himself.


Charlie’s kit
Kayak and tenkara kit laid out on the dam wall at Seathwaite Tarn

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Tenkara rod

I bought the Aventik Mini IM12 Nano on eBay. It took a few weeks to arrive from China but it was worth the wait. Mine is short, the 9ft model. Even that is long for the overgrown streams I fish. But I simply hold the rod half way up to cast. £40

Tenkara line (+ 2lb cast and flies)

Richard Adeney at Wye Tenkara makes a range of lines, and I recommend you try different styles and lengths. For the kind of fishing I do, I like this one, the forward tapered 3.0 m furled leader/line light with orange tip. £8.50

I wanted a tough inflatable kayak that would last, that was streamlined enough to take on long journeys if necessary, and that had room for fishing kit. The Gumotex Safari fits the bill. It’s pricy, but mine is already into its second year of use. £600

It seemed a lot of money for paddles but I wanted lightweight and convenience. These split into two and can be carried in the rucksack. £65

Any two-litre (2000ml) hand pump will do, as long as it has the right attachment to inflate your kayak. They vary. The Gumotex Safari takes 25-30 pumps to inflate each bow and 40-50 to inflate the base. £25

I paid a little extra for a life jacket or ‘PBA’ – and I am glad I got one with pockets. This one is big enough for a flybox, cast and a priest. £85

Simple, 3mm neoprene wetsuit trousers from Decathlon. I won’t be flayakaraing in bad weather. £25

Kayak sail

I am still not sure if this is really worth the money. It’s a 42in kayak sail from Amazon. It is useful if you need to get from A-B quickly and you can’t be bothered to paddle. Sailors note: it’s not good for tacking. £15

Monocle

With my eyesight dimming with age, this lets me thread line through the eyes of hooks, untangle ‘furled line’ tangles and, at moments of emotion, pop it out like a Raj colonel. £36

Outboard

I don’t have a kayak outboard but, if I had a kayak with a rigid hull, I’d be looking at this one. £200


The Seathwaite riot

You buy your fishing tickets for Seathwaite Tarn at at the local Newfield Inn. But it is fair to say that the Newfield’s relations with the Tarn has not always been so friendly.

This picture on the pub wall tells of how the navvy builders of the tarn dam in 1904 tried to tear the place up when refused service. The ‘riot’ resulted in the landlord shooting them. One of them died of his wounds.

Click here to see this picture full size
The Newfield Inn in Seathwaite reopened after months of closure on 1 September 2020. Here is Les (left) and Martin behind the shiny new bar on their opening day. As far as I know, they don’t keep guns behind the bar