Close this search box.

Fridays on the Fly | Too Tight for Tenkara?

“You can’t fish with a rod that long in these mountain streams”.

I’ve heard that more times than I can shake a long rod at.  The idea of heading out to the waterline with a twelve foot fly rod sounds crazy to many people. There was a time when I thought the same thing. Knowing the places I fish and how “tight” that creek line is, extra long rods seemed counter-intuitive. When I first ventured into the world of tenkara fly fishing I kept my distance from the trees and stayed in wide open spaces.  Very quickly I began to get control of these longs rods and witness firsthand the wide range of benefits they are touted for. The level of confidence I was gaining with this angling tool took me from the open shoreline right into the thicket.

Along with my fellow tenkara anglers here in the Appalachian Range, we have been dissecting these waters with twelve foot rods for some years now. This includes the cold waters coming off Mount Mitchell and the swift flow on Catoctin Mountain. It is true, we all have some hide-away blue lines that get silly tight and become almost too hard to fish at all. I’ll acknowledge that and follow it with that is the exception, not the rule.  Stop and take a look around at the area around you next time you are “out in the woods” fishing the high country water. Do you see what I see? 


First, I would like you to notice how high the canopy is. On most streams in the mountains the trees push their branches high toward the sky.  The hardwood varieties limit lower branches and use the high level limbs to compete for sunlight.  The typically offers an amazing amount of space for casting in general and affords ample room for my long tenkara rod and fixed length of line. Once you add horizontal casting to your vertical casting lanes, and every angle variation in between, you’ll have a great ability to perform. 

For my second point, take a look at the water’s edge. Where is the root line for all these trees?  This typically is many feet from the actual water.  The high water line, or wash zone, prevents foliage from growing long term right at the water. Since the trees are growing farther back, you have gained more additional space for casting a long rod.  I concede that rhododendron and laurel will grow right to the edge and hang out over the sweetest holes sometimes. Treat that as a challenge on how to penetrate that spot. For the most part, you’ll see wide open spaces along your favorite waterways.


The condition found in mountain streams are often more favorable than the ones you will see in the Piedmont waterways in our region. Warm water streams and rivers can have heavy vegetation growth right up banks. This puts scrub brush and weeds in our way.  Haven’t we all tried to make casts through the years in a small pocket cutout on the shoreline? The one place must be a perfect casting spot because the earth is well trodden there because so many other anglers have used the same idea. Then you realize that it is beat down because we are all making the same mistake, it isn’t a good spot to fish from. That isn’t something you find very often high up in the hills.

Tenkara rods range from about nine feet up to about fourteen feet.  That starting point is right at the same mark that many fly fishers are holding now in their nine foot nymphing rods. Fixed line fly fishing is a departure from the conventional training most fly fishermen have received and read about. There are few limitations to this ancient Japanese style, but not when it comes to tight areas. I routinely carry a nine foot and twelve foot rods with me everywhere I go. They are telescopic and collapse to near twenty inches. They each weight about 2.5 ounces. I can successfully angle fish from four inches to twenty inches with casting lengths from at my feet to thirty plus feet away.  Whether I’m in downtown Charlotte or at home high on Grandfather Mountain, I take every advantage with my long rods. I rarely find myself in “tight” areas where I can’t make the casts that I want to.  We don’t let the tight areas scare us away from tackling that water.

Tenkara Gets Around!

Share this post:

Discover more in the Blue Ridge:

Join our newsletter!

Subscribe to receive the latest from Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine sent directly to your inbox.