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Fridays on the Fly: Tenkara Fishing with Jason Sparks

“Tenkara Gets Around” is something I have been saying for some years now as I’ve watched the growing popularity of this fly fishing method. It has found strong footing in the cold flow of the Blue Ridge Mountains and has been embraced by anglers in the warm waters of the Piedmont. Tenkara is a fixed line, “no reel” style of fly fishing.

This is not a new subject for Blue Ridge Outdoors, and I hope you have seen it in their pages before. They have been covering and highlighting growth in the tenkara community for a while. In fact, my first exposure to tenkara was in a BRO article by Graham Averill several years ago. I was sitting in “My Father’s Pizza” in Black Mountain, North Carolina when I read the article. I distinctly remember the thoughts running through my head as I read it. The wheels started turning, and I have not been able to slow them down since.


A quick web search for “tenkara” will return a long list of blogs devoted to experiences and instruction with tenkara. The companies selling these rods have excellent videos, “how to” tutorials and a beautiful selection of rods, line, and flies. There are online forums that offer a serious archive of activities, lessons, thoughts, discoveries and general musings on the subject. There is, of course, a strong social media presence for the tenkara community also. A small group I started on Facebook has grown to be the largest online gathering of tenkara anglers on the East Coast. If you are looking for a good place to start, or are interested in getting to know others already involved with tenkara, join the Appalachian Tenkara Anglers group.

North Carolina has the first, and only, state supported tenkara program running in it’s second year now, and I have been making half a dozen tenkara presentations at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education outside of Brevard, North Carolina for two summers. We cover the history of tenkara, characteristics of the rods, lines and flies, and field all sorts of questions. There is a hands-on portion also where we get a variety of rods in your hands for casting. This is a great opportunity to get an introduction to tenkara. Like all the classes North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission offers here- it is free.


Let’s not overlook the 2nd Annual “Appalachian Tenkara Jam”, coming up in a few weeks during the month of July. This is the largest multi-vendor tenkara event in the United States. There will be presentations from the leading tenkara anglers in the country covering a wide range of topics. We have eight different tenkara rods manufacturers that will be on site to demo and sell rods. We also have Trout Unlimited and Project Healing Waters involved.

JAM2015fbposterThe once a year traveling event was outside of Boone, North Carolina last October. This year we are hosted by Great Feathers Fly Shop in Maryland to fish on the mighty Gunpowder River. It is fast approaching and will be held the weekend of July 11-12th in Hereford, MD just outside Baltimore. Check out the website for more details.

Now, as you begin looking into the information on tenkara you will quickly notice that there is no reel. That may be the most obvious thing out of the gate, but look closer:

  • These rods are telescopic by design and collapse down to about twenty two inches
  • Most of them weigh less than three ounces
  • They range in length generally from nine feet up to fourteen
  • The lines are interchangeable with working lengths of eight to twenty four feet
  • Tenkara rods are excellent for delivering wet and dry flies, nymphs and small streamers
  • Very capable of handling fish up to and past twenty inches


The fishing system emphasizes mastering technique and moves away from gear heavy methods of fly fishing. I typically carry one rod, two different line lengths, a spool of 5X tippet, and an Altoids tin with an assortment of 20-30 flies in it. The whole kit weighs in at a few ounces total. I can address nearly any body of water with slight adjustments on this ultralight fishing ensemble. It doesn’t get more simple than this.

There is a tenkara rod in my car at all times. I travel with one everywhere I go. At a few ounces, it can be incorporated into your backpack for hiking. Strap it to your bike frame for that back-country or urban ride. Velcro it to your kayak for your float downstream. The flexibility of a tenkara rod allows you to stop and fish just about everywhere you go.


In the future on “Fridays on the Fly”, I will break into varied topics relating to tenkara fly fishing. We will chat about the rods, lines, and flies that make up the extreme versatility of this ancient Japanese method of angling. Thanks for reading through my first installment for Blue Ridge Outdoors. Go get a line wet and have a great weekend.

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