Learning the art of Tenkara


For me, hiking and fly fishing go hand-in-hand. Even before I started fly fishing, I loved to fish where the pressure was light and I didn’t have to fight for a spot. Usually this meant hiking into a secluded spot.

As I started backpacking, I kept finding myself wishing I had a fly rod along to chase the beautiful mountain stream trout I’d find along the way. I spent a bit of money and purchased a quality small stream rod that broke down into four pieces so it would fit in the pack but I found that the amount of gear one needs for proper fly fishing would add pounds to carry.

A few years ago my hiking buddy Scott asked me if I had heard of the “new” fishing technique called Tenkara. I had only seen a few references to Tenkara in a fly magazine or two and the traditionalist in me had no interest in what I thought amounted to fishing with an old-fashioned cane pole.

Then, all of a sudden, Tenkara fishing started taking off in the US and the more I learned about it, the more it seemed like the perfect union between fly fishing and backpacking. Tenkara originates in Japan, the first recorded mention of it was in 1878. Modern tenkara uses 11 foot or longer telescoping, graphite rods. The rod I have weighs a mere 2.8 ounces and is 22 inches. Including the metal rod tube, three tenkara fly lines and my box of flies, the kit weighs in less than my ECHO traditional fly rod in its metal tube.

I received my Tenkara rod as a Christmas present from my wife but it’s taken me until last week to finally find the time to get out on the stream and try it. I was a bit apprehensive at first but after a few hours fishing on Muddy Creek over two days last weekend, I have to say I am hooked!  Tenkara fishing is a simplistic approach to fly fishing. While having years of experience with traditional fly fishing helped with fly selection, where to fish, etc., I think Tenkara is the perfect way to teach a new fisherman how to fly fish.

Basically, Tenkara is a long fishing rod with no reel. The line, usually a braided synthetic material, is about the same length as the rod, attached directly to the tip. A tippet (a length of fine monofilament) connects the line to the fly. It is, for all intents and purposes, fishing with an old cane pole.

The one thing I love about Tenkara is how quickly I can set up and tear down the rod.  With a traditional fly rod, if I wanted to try a different spot I either had to carry the fully rigged rod through the woods and trails, or spend several minutes re-rigging each time I hiked from spot to spot. With Tenkara, it takes seconds, literally, to attach the line and extend the rod to fishing length. And when I want to move, a few more seconds and the line and fly are safely wrapped around a foam ring and the rod is collapsed to easily carry to the next spot.

I’ll be spending much more time with my Tenkara rod before our trip to the Great Smoky Mountains in June, where I plan to catch loads of native brook trout with it!

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