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On the Tenkara Trail

Tenkara Fly Rod Review

Talking tenkara.


It was one of the outdoor industries biggest buzzwords of 2012, and for 2011 for that matter. Maybe 2010, also. Anyway, as the world at large becomes more and more advanced – see complicated and confusing – the outdoor world has swung the other way, toward simplicity, ultra-lightweight, and dare I say, old-school. In fly fishing, we are talking about the oldest of schools, the ancient art of tenkara fly fishing.

Tenkara Fly Rod Review from Summit Publishing on Vimeo.

If you have never heard of it, tenkara is a minimalist style of fly fishing. There is no reel, only the rod, line, and fly. The rod is slow action, long – often 12 feet or more – and telescopes down to a couple feet, making it super portable. The line is fixed to the end, and the fly is tied as normal.

Fishing a tenkara rod is almost the same as fishing with a traditional fly rod. The major differences being the length, and of course, the reel-less handle. The same casting basics are used, albeit slightly adjusted since the rod is significantly lighter and the action slower than what one is probably used to. The only real issue I had with casting was what to do with my left hand since it wasn’t holding excess fly line. Putting it in my pocket seemed too casual, but holding the rod with two hands made me feel like doofus and impeded my cast more than anything. I finally settled on a hand at the side, out of the pocket, at the ready position I felt fairly comfortable with. The 45 minutes of me deciding this made for some very compelling video, unfortunately it ended up on the cutting room floor with the shots of me trying to shoot the tenkara rod out of its handle like a light saber.

DO NOT DO THIS. The instructions specifically say not to, and I can vouch that it is not a good idea.

I can also vouch for the rod’s packability. I tossed it in my backpack and busted it out when I found some good pools. It is very easy to rig up and break down, making it the perfect tool for the small brookie streams in the Shenandoah Valley, Smokies, or anywhere there are tight quarters and spooky fish. With it’s length and flex, the tenkara rod is a roll casting all-star, all the better to place the fly at the top of the pool and not in the tree behind you.

Once you hook a fish, landing it is also a new twist on a traditional skill. Because the line has a fixed length, the rod does most of the fighting for you. It takes a little more maneuvering to get into position, but the old trick of holding the rod high and bringing the fish to hand are essentially the same. If I had actually caught any fish on the test run, I would know more about this. Unfortunately, I’m going off second hand knowledge here.

The bottom line is that the tenkara rod is a great piece of equipment to have on hand. It allows you to bring a fly rod along on any adventure, from a day hike to a multi-day bikepacking trip. Although it is essentially a one trick pony – trying to land a fish larger than 16 inches or fish a larger sized river would be a struggle – its trick is pretty awesome.

These rods are relatively inexpensive and would make a perfect Christmas gift for the angler who likes to trek. For more information and to check out Tenkara rods and retailers, go to Tenkara USA.

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