Tenkara Fly Fishing – Pure Fun

Ooops! Forgot that I took my Pram seats down to Koffler’s for Joe to do some work on them.  Here we were getting ready to go fishing with no seats.  No problem, we have camp chairs.  time to improvise, I figured.

Now, it’s about time I went fishing and just had simple fun. That’s what I imagined when I first saw a Tenkara Fly Rod several months ago down at the Caddis Fly in Eugene.


Tenkara. Here is a little information gleaned from my initial research.  Tenkara is a method, perhaps a little philosophy thrown in too, that has been employed in Japan for several hundred years.  Don’t know exactly how long.  Key element that immediately attracted my attention and admiration is the simplicity of Tenkara fly fishing:  no reel; just a rod with a relatively short line tied to the tip of the rod.

Tenkara fly rods are long, say in the 11-13 foot range.  The lines attached to the rods are about the same length as the rods, and tied on to a short cord, called an illian, which is glued to the tip of the fly rod.

Here’s another thing about moderrn Tenkara fly rods:  they telescope from the 20″ range out to the full length of the rod.  I know, it might sound gimicky.  but I have fished so many places on small streams and large, where the best cast was the close cast.

Seeing that Tenkara rod in the fly shop got me thinking going back to some of my old trout fishing haunts with one of these finely tapered rods, a line of about fifteen feet, and a little fly to skitter on the surface.

Just a week ago, I asked Chris to order me a Tenkara Amago.  At 13′ 6″, this rod is advertised as the Tenkara rod for larger rivers and larger fish.  My main goal was just to tie a string on the rod, round up my young son Jackson, and head out for an evening of absolutely no-fussing-with-tackle fishing and fun.

We did just that.

I will be exploring the Tenkara fly fishing philosophy and fly rods more very soon; I think it has wonderful potential.  For now, no specs, no details, just a short pictorial review of the evening.


Tenkara:  except for a spool of tippet and a fly, here’s all you need to go fishing.

It was after 6 PM when we pulled out of the driveway, but we were goin’ fishing!

We made it to the boat ramp, threw in the camp chairs, and we are ready to go git ’em.

Somehow, a burrito and an A&W root beer made the gear list.

About two minutes after we anchored, Jackson hooked the first trout.  Check it out:  no fly reel!

Hatchery rainbow number one was soon released.

Hatchery chinook that never migrated to the ocean had grown to about 10″ and were eager to snap at our fly.

Fly selection was crucial, as long as we used the first fly we tied on, a #14 hare’s ear soft hackle with the barb pinched down.

There wasn’t much time for snacking, what with all the fishy business going on.  The Tenkara rod was a delight to cast.  We managed only one (honest) easily sorted-out tangle during the evening.  Jackson put the fly out and twitched it just the way the wily fish demanded.

I tried to get us back to the boat ramp before dark, but Jackson gave me the “common dada, let’s make a few more casts.”  One cast led to two, the fish kept grabbing into the twilight, and soon it was dark, again.

Jackson and I carefully removed the line, de-telescoped the Tenkara, and put our prize in its case.  A little west of Lebanon, Jackson fell asleep, just like his big brother David did twenty years ago.

9 thoughts on “Tenkara Fly Fishing – Pure Fun

  1. So, I can see the soft hackle and the kid…..the other stuff would really make you look cool I guess. But couldn’t you just trick the system with your 3 wt and a tuna fish sandwich in your back pocket, plus the soft hackle of course? They do have really neat looking flies…….surprised you didn’t try to throw one of those together. Basically a heavy soft hackle quite often with pheasant tail antennae and tails.

    1. Ahah, questions within questions. 3 wt would be great, tried that when Jackson was younger. Great fun and more tangles. Tuna sandwich in back pocket was a mess as soon as i sat down on it. Didn’t have time to tie an “authentic” Tenkara replica fly, but some of them look nice because of the super sparse dressing, so will have to give a try. More to follow one of these days. Need to try on a small stream with wild fish, not big water loaded with hatchery fish hungry for a burrito. JN

  2. very nice, and great to have water time with Jackson, but doesn’t it seem odd that a minimalist philosophy requires you to purchase more tackle ???

    1. Right on the money Steve. Knowing that you also are delving into minimalist territory, I can only relate my own rationalizations. First, that sustaining the global economy requires purchase of more tackle. Second, one must look at the balance sheet. Stepping away from six fly rods and reels to acquire one rod is a net evolution to minimalism at the bottom of the balance sheet, although there are now 7 fly rods and 6 fly reels still in existence somewhere, if not in my own den. Finally, this seems like the closest thing to cane -pole fishing for 6″ trout that I have been able to find to date, and those little fish really pull hard on the ultra light tip. OK, I give up. New toy. There, happy now? JN

  3. I love my Japanese fishing rod, a 13-foot Daiwa given to me by a friend who travels to Japan often. I think it’s mildly disingenuous for Tenkara to make this out as a dedicated flyfishing tool. It’s just a style of fishing rod, more often used for fishing bait than flies (according to my source, who is not a fly guy). Obviously they make good fly rods, but the standard tackle that accompanies this rod are snelled bait hooks, furled leaders, and tiny barrel swivels. No flies.

    For those who are concerned about weilding a 13-foot rod on a small trout stream, I have good news for you: it weighs about two ounces, and because it is telescopic, you can instantly shorten the rod to any length you want.

    1. Rob: I secretly hope to hook a steelhead on this rod. The specs say to use a tippet under 5 lbs strength, but i am wondering, what if i push it to 8 lbs? What if i have about 20 ft of line to the fly (15′ level line and 5′ leader tipett)? I know i can easily get within 30 feet of Mr. Steelie. I know they eat little flies of the nymph, soft hackle, and muddler varieties. I remember a 12 or 13′ Diawa float rod that i fished for years with a BC style bobber, bait, and a level wind reel. It was a wonderful steelhead rod. Now, if i were to push the tippet strength up a little, lengthen the line a little, and keep a low rod angle, wouldn’t it be fun to see that steelhead make at least one strong run? JN

    2. chaveecha

      There are a number of types of fishing in Japan that utilize a telescopic pole. Bait fishing is often referred to as either keiyru tsuri or myaku tsuri. The poles used are similar, but not the same. Tenkara actually is strictly fly fishing. If the pole you received came with bait hooks and swivels, it was a bait fishing rod, not a tenkara rod. Not to say you couldn’t fish flies with it or bait with a tenkara rod – kind of like fishing salmon eggs or worms with a fly rod.


      Without a reel that allows you to give line, the tippet has to be the weak link. Pushing it to 8 lb test may result in a broken rod. Even with the rod at a low angle, it may jam the telescopic sections together to the point that you can’t collapse the rod without breaking it.

      1. Chris: thank you, enlightenment comes in little steps and is always appreciated when offered an opportunity to learn. I was afeared of what you point out as the folly of the 8 lb tippet. Thank you for putting the tackle and my steelhead lust in perspective. I shall stay at or under the recommended specs. Probably. Most of the time, I think. What about 6 lb? What if i throw the rod over the side if a steelhead takes my fly?


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