Tenkara season approaches

I’m a fair-weather fly fisher; I only go fishing for 4 months of the year, roughly mid-June through mid-October.  I like catching trout on dry flies in clear water, and those are the months in which this pursuit is most profitable.  The last few autumns I’ve thought that perhaps this year I’ll fish a longer season, but it has yet to happen.  Maybe if I ever buy a pair of waders I’ll be tempted.

Competition in the exploding Tenkara market has gotten ferocious. And confusing. Three years ago you picked a Tenkara USA rod and were done. Today illuminating and comparing the options will take a lot of time.

If you’re in the market, your first stop after a basic perusal of gear and how-to websites should be the Teton Tenkara blog.  Tom Davis fishes all the time, has tried more rods than just about anyone, and writes about them clearly.  He has produced the extremely helpful comparison table I’ve reproduced below.


I remain content with my first generation Tenkara USA Amago, and the Diawa Soyokaze I purchased last year.  The Soyokaze is no longer available, but similar sub 9 foot rods are available from several places.  The moderate action of both rods suits me, and having both a long and short rod covers my bases, terrain wise.

If you’re just starting out it’s not a bad idea to get one of the super-cheap rods available and try out the concept.  Your lines and flies and miscellania will transfer over.  On the other hand, you do get what you pay for.  We’re currently seeing a rush from companies and distributors to out-cheap and out-light each other, and there are inevitable downsides.  Tenkara USA rods have a deserved reputation for robustness (unless you go beyond spec and nymph them to death), and as a result they’re suddenly among the heavier choices on the market.  It’s nice to be able to put your rod in an Ebira, your Ebira in your pack, and not have to worry about breaking the rod in transit.  I also find the larger diameter cork grip of the Amago to be much less fatiguing and pleasant to cast all day than the tiny, bare plastic of the Soyokaze.

In either case, get a rod, get a level line, get some tippet and bushy dry flies, and go at it.  If you visit clear mountain waters this is something you want to try now, least you rue it later.

9 responses to “Tenkara season approaches”

  1. My 16 year old son loves fishing and backpacking. He went to a Tenkara class at a fishing expo here in SLC. Shortly thereafter he ordered a rod from Tenkara USA. A couple weeks ago he went fishing with a Tenkara guide. Needless to say he is hooked on Tenkara. I will show him this post. And thanks for the link to Teton Tenkara, my son will love that blog.

  2. Having considered Tenkara for a couple of years now and decided to splash the cash I thought it would be a good idea to read up on it first. I read Kevin Kelleher’s ‘Tenkara: Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing’ and suddenly thought ‘Wow, this might not be a simple as I first thought’, and this is from someone who has lure and bait fished, sometimes competitively, for 30 years.

    So I was glad to read your line “Get a rod, get a level line, get some tippet and bushy dry flies, and go at it”. I will. And thanks for the information and inspiration.

    1. You can make fly fishing absurdly complex, but it is not necessary to catch fish.

      I’ve only used mid-weight TenkaraUSA level line on the Amago. I bought that first, it worked, so I bought more. On the Soyokaze I used whatever Chris Stewart included free with the rod. Haven’t needed replacements yet.

      So long as I know fish are feeding on the surface (see above concerning season) I use one of several commerically available and fairly cheap flies which float well (Humpes, Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulators). I buy the colors which are easy to see (White, Yellow). I mostly use size 14 and 16 flies because handling smaller flies is a pain, but I do keep some 22s around for tiny streams.

      The only other essential investment is a guidebook. At least around here, most alpine lakes have fish because they were stocked at some point, and that is something you just need to know so you don’t spend all day casting to phantom fish.

  3. I got back into fly fishing this spring, and fishing the off-season really is worth it–made much easier now that I have a pair of neoprene waders on loan. We should go some time. Ever since, I’ve been excited to give Tenkara a try. Now that I’ve sold some stuff just lying around, I will soon pick up a long rod (400cm +) to give it a go. The planned trip to the South Fork is lining up to be one of the highlights of a very excellent summer.

  4. Hey Dave,
    I’m looking for a way to drop a fly into small creeks in Alaska and pull out grayling & rainbows up to 18″ in length. No casting, just standing on the bank and dropping a line in to let it float past the fish I spot in the creek from the brushy bank.
    What’s your recommendation for doing this? I’d like it to be as light as possible, since it’d just be a method of getting one fish for a meal, not fishing for recreation/sport. I only fish for salivary enjoyment :) …and I imagine it would be easier than hand-grabbing fish, like I do now!

    1. If you’re really just floating a fly by a fish, some 10 lb florocarbon line with 4x tippet and a fly, all tied to a stick or trekking pole, ought to get the job done.

      1. Good idea! I’ll work with my fly-fisher buddy to get that set up. Thanks Dave.

        1. You’ll need to use a pretty neanderthal hookset, but it’ll put fish in the pot.

        2. LOL. It’ll fit well with the idea of a backcountry Paleo diet. Again, better than hand-grabbing!
          Thanks for the advice.

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