For fly-fishing anglers, you may or may not have considered using a Tenkara rod before. The thing is, most people consider a Tenkara rod to be some form of sub-class of fly-fishing rod. While it doesn’t seem all that different at first, this long, thin, and often telescopic rod doesn’t have a reel or line guides.
Here’s the thing, like all great inventions, the Tenkara rod has a very good place in the fly-fishing world. For those who like to combine their hobbies, the easy-to-put-together fishing rod can be folded away and put in a hiking bag for treks and easily pulled out without much hassle.
Want to get involved in this angling revolution using this lightweight style rod? Take a look at our guide that shows you the best Tenkara rods on the market today and where they’re best applied. We’ve broken down the features to look for as well as a few handy hints on how to use a Tenkara rod. Get sucked into the growing trend below to find out more!
Comparison Chart of the Best Tenkara Rods
Wild Water Tenkara 12’ Rod Fly Fishing Complete Starter Package
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DRAGONtail Tenkara Shadowfire 360 12' Tenkara Fly Fishing Rod
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M MAXIMUMCATCH Maxcatch Tenkara Rod Combo
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Seaquest Tenkara Rod 12FT Carbon Fiber Tenkara Rod
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Tenkara Sato Fly Fishing Rod Multi-Size Telescopic (10'8", 11'10", 12'9")
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What is a Tenkara Rod?
Tenkara rods are made for a Japanese style of fishing called ‘Tenkara’ – largely unknown outside of Japan until around 2009. As with many things in Japanese culture, this fishing rod takes us back to simplicity, using very long-lived, simple methods of fishing. Tenkara fishing takes the rod back to its original state, doing away with fancy contraptions, fixtures, and add-ons, to provide a minimalist rod.
Completely stripped back, most notably, Tenkara rods do not feature reels. Without a reel, one can imagine that the Tenkara rods look like those from our nostalgic childhood memories – just a simple pole, a line, and a fly.
Originally made from bamboo in Japan, these rods may remind you of those fashioned from driftwood on the beach. As technology has advanced, Tenkara rods are now made from highly-durable, extremely lightweight carbon fiber.
Moreover, Tenkara rods do not feature line guides. Instead, the line is tied to the very top of the pole.
You’ll also notice that Tenkara rods are very long. They can be anywhere between 11 and 15 feet long. In fact, many Tenkara rods are now telescopic to help increase the length of the rod when casting and reaching for schools of fish from the shore or your boat. This also enables anglers to reach schools of fish without startling them by your own presence.
Designed for catching smaller fish, a Tenkara rod really excels in smaller streams where small to mid-sized fish are swimming freely. The lack of a reel and very minimalist design creates little impact on the water, meaning this type of rod startles the fish far less.
Why are They Used For Fly Fishing?
Tenkara rods are made for Japan’s original version of fly fishing. Though western-style fly-fishing and Japanese Tenkara emerged separately, the essence of both activities is the same. In this sense, both styles collide, making Tenkara rods a great choice for fly fishing. Here are some of the reasons why:
1. Tenkara rods are designed for catching a lot of fish with very little bait, specifically in mountain rivers. In this sense, these style rods are a great choice for those looking to simplify their method but still catch a lot of fish.
2. Tenkara is ideal for backpacking. As you only have a rod with a line attached to the end, this is simple to set up and pack away. It fits easily in a hiking backpack, making it ideal for trekking and traveling
3. Tenkara rods take about 40 seconds to set up. This is especially great for stream fishing, where you can quickly put your rod and line together and get fishing as soon as you see schools of fish.
4. Tenkara rods are lightweight, so they are comfortable to use and cast accurately, smoothly, and with good distance.
5. The process is streamlined to focus just on catching the fish rather than being preoccupied with the equipment that comes with the task at hand.
6. You don’t need to buy lots of extra fancy equipment when you use a Tenkara rod – just your fly, rod, and line!
How to Choose a Tenkara Rod
If you’re looking to choose a Tenkara rod, you might want to look at these tips for what you need to consider. Most importantly, you’re looking at length, power, and additional features to get you started.
Tenkara rods are much longer than normal fishing rods. In fact, Tenkara rods are anywhere between 11 feet long and 15 feet long. Many rods also come as telescopic models, allowing you to work at both longer and shorter distances.
It is important to remember that longer rods bring greater sensitivity and the leverage enables you to see the bites.
On the other hand, longer rods are a little harder to pack in your bag if you plan to hike, trek, or climb with this rod. Equally, longer rods are harder to cast if you’re in areas with low-hanging trees and a great deal of foliage. Shorter rods tend to feel a little more accurate when casting as well and tend to be a little stronger.
That said, most Tenkara anglers tend to choose a medium length rod, between 11 and 15 feet but choose the option of a telescopic model in case they want to increase its length.
The power refers to the strength of the Tenkara rod. Rods that have higher strength or power are able to lift bigger fish more easily. Rods with less power may snap if you lift fish that are too large.
When it comes to Tenkara rods, the smaller the rod, the stronger it tends to be as it has less leverage and flexibility. The most pressing problem with this reel-less rod is that you cannot loosen the line to give slack when hooking a larger fish. In this sense, a long rod with little power will snap if you catch something too large.
Therefore, look for a heavier power if you’re considering hooking very large fish. If you’re only hooking small mountain stream fish, you can go with a rod with slightly less power.
In general, you’ll find that most Tenkara rods are made from a carbon fiber composite to increase durability and longevity, without compromising much on flexibility and strength. The composite materials enable it to remain lightweight without snapping.
Moreover, when choosing a Tenkara rod, consider the handle. Not only do you want a comfortable, ergonomically comfortable design, but the material of the handle will also determine how long it lasts. Low-grade cork or plastic, for example, tend to chip away over time. Equally, handles with glossy finishes tend to become slippery when they are wet.
Obviously, the point of a Tenkara rod is its simplicity so the additional features on this are limited. That said, not all manufacturers include line so you may need to purchase this separately. The same can be said for lures.
When choosing the right flies and line for your Tenkara rod, try to look for information listed on the rod or in the manual.
Quick Take | Best Tenkara Rods
Just looking for the top three best Tenkara rods? Here they are:
Review of the Best Tenkara Rods
Choosing a Tenkara rod can be a challenge if you’re new to the sport. The simplicity of the rods can make it confusing to understand which is the best style for you. Below is a guide to the best Tenkara rods and fishing kits on the market today. We think these are a great place to start and are a good sampling of what you should be looking for.
Check out the pros and cons of our best Tenkara rods, followed by our expert summary guiding you to the Tenkara rod of your dreams.
This Tenkara package comes complete with a 12-foot rod, guidebook, strap-on, foal spool, flip-up for line keepers, monofilament tippet, and much more. With a lifetime warranty, this slow action rod is made from mid flex IM8 graphite with an aluminum end cap on the handle.
The grip is molded to a western-style handle and is made from premium-grade cork with compressed cork trim rings. The fly box is waterproof, floats, and comes with four flies. This set also includes the Tenkara line.
A great kit for a beginner, this set comes complete with everything you need to get started with Tenkara fishing. The rod is of high quality, while the tackle box is waterproof and floats. This comes with line, flies, and a good set of instructions to help you on your way. The instructions could use some pictures and you need to remember to take care when first assembling.
A great freshwater Tenkara kit, this package will get you going very quickly. Inclusive of everything you’ll need to get started, this pack has clear instructions on how to begin. The rod itself is of high quality for a kit of this price, comprised of solid graphite, making it lightweight for easier casting. You’ll need dry fly floatant for the braided line because it will sink, but once this is rubbed on, you’ll be fine.
Best for the Money:
M MAXIMUMCATCH Maxcatch Tenkara Rod Combo
This Tenkara set comes complete with a high-quality carbon Tenkara rod, available in three different sizes: 11, 12, and 13 feet. The lightweight design is engineered for precision, while the included braided line is hand-made.
The set includes all you need to get going, including a fluorocarbon tippet from Japan and premium Tenkara flies with Korean-made hooks. The kit comes with a carry case and a strong aluminum box for the flies and hooks.
While the action on the rod is a little slower than other models, the carbon material means the rod is strong and durable. The kit includes everything one would need to start, but the carry case could do with having stiff walls for more solid protection. The aluminum box is a lovely addition and keeps flies secure and organized, while the braided line is perfect for Tenkara fishing of small to medium sized fish.
Made from 100% carbon fiber, this Tenkara rod comes with a line winder and replacement parts for the top two sections in case they break.
The rod is 12-foot in length but collapses to only 20 inches. The cork handle is made from AA-grade materials and covers 10.2 inches of the rod for maximum comfort while fishing.
This carbon fiber rod is a great length and folds down to a small size. The lack of carrying case is a bit of a problem, but you can buy them separately. The handle is very comfy and the materials used are extremely durable. This comes with a line wider and spare parts, just in case damage occurs when reeling in a large fish.
This Tenkara rod comes in a super lightweight design with a triple telescopic feature. At its smallest, the rod is 10 feet 8 inches, but it extends to 11 feet 10-inch and 12 feet 9-inch lengths. The rod plug comes in a set of two, while the whole thing collapses down to only 22.75 inches.
This is a rod-only set and doesn’t come with replacement sections. Despite this, the three-tier zoom makes this a very versatile tool. The super lightweight design keeps it precise in a variety of different settings, while the strong carry cases prevent any damage while transporting.
How to Use Tenkara Rods
Tenkara rods are easy to use as they are very simply designed. Remember not to over complicate it, keep it short and quick, and you’ll be fine - it’s mostly practice!
- Spot Your Location – They say that 70% of success in fishing is spotting the fish’s location and presenting yourself well to it. Especially when mountain fishing, think about the places that are most likely to house fish.
- Short Casting Stroke – You need to use a short casting stroke. It’s the same overhead movement as Western-style fly fishing, however, it’s much shorter in the stroke length. This is the same, no matter how windy it is.
- Try Not to Overpower the Rod -Instinctually, fly fishers will want to overpower the rod. This is a simple rod which doesn’t need so much oomph to work, so make sure you fight against your instincts to go full on.
- You Need to Be Fast - When you’re casting, although the stroke is shorter, you need to cast quickly. The cast is more in the wrist action than in the arm movement. A good way to remember is to put your finger down the rod and imagine you’re pushing your finger downward.
- Sideways Casting – While you can use the overhead method with a shorter cast, you can also cast sideways. This is very delicate and helps you get full reach on the rod.
If you’re craving simplicity in life and want to step away from the hustle and bustle of new technology, perhaps Tenkara fishing is the new hobby for you. Very simple to get going, you need nothing more than a line, a fly, and a rod to begin fishing.
Very enjoyable to fly fishers everywhere, this style of fishing is both relaxing and easy. You’ll find you get used to the telescopic rod quickly, and will also find it extremely convenient for hiking and camping. Fitting neatly into a backpack, you can unfold your rod and set everything up in under a minute.
Having been around for hundreds of years, Tenkara fishing is an effective method of fly fishing which produces a large yield of fish with very little bait. If you’re looking for a new style with very little effort, Tenkara is the sport for you.
Now, choose your rod wisely, considering your surroundings before selecting a length. Remember that long rods can reach further but are often less strong – and can be a pain to pack in your backpack!