What Is Tenkara Fishing?

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Fly fishing can be quite tasking. It requires a fair amount of preparation, from gathering the necessary equipment to learning how to tie the various flies and tackles. However, Tenkara fishing, a style of fly fishing, is praised for being both easy to learn and effective. So, what is Tenkara Fishing?

What Is Tenkara Fishing?

Tenkara fishing is a style of fly fishing that evolved from its traditional roots in the Japanese mountains into a popular recreational activity today. Tenkara is coined from the Japanese word “Tenkara-tsuri,” which is directly translated into “fishing from the skies” or “fishing from heaven.” This is obviously because of one’s appearance when using Tenkara rods.

Other than the use of long Tenkara rods, it is also characterized by the use of a set length of casting line fastened to the rod’s tip and wet fly patterns that are intentionally simplistic and expressive. With only a rod, line, and fly, the goal is to keep things simple, depending on a natural presentation to catch small-sized fish.

A man wearing a brown jacket and gray pants is holding a Tenkara rod while standing on a calm lake

Is Tenkara Fly Fishing?

Yes, Tenkara is a form of fly fishing that gained a lot of popularity because of its simple, yet effective nature. Tenkara is a basic but uncommon fly fishing technique that originated in Japan. It is used mostly for catching trout and other fish in mountain streams.

Though most of it was unrecorded, the history of Tenkara fishing can be traced to ancient Japan about 400 years ago. It was developed by commercial fishermen in mountain communities that were shut off from the rest of the world and forced to rely on their own skills and the resources at hand.

Evolution of Tenkara Fishing

When Tenkara started, the fishermen used bamboo rods, horsehair, silk, or other lines, and bent needles with chicken feathers and thread. Tenkara evolved into a “fixed-line” form of fly fishing because its early practitioners lacked a reel.

Clearly, the system was effective since it has sustained the livelihoods of countless generations and continues to this day, spreading well beyond Japanese borders. Little has changed in how Tenkara is fished now. All you need for Tenkara is:

  • A rod,
  • Some lines, and
  • A fly

However, technological and material advancements have led to substantial breakthroughs in gear design, helping modern Tenkara anglers expand the capabilities of the method.

Benefits of Tenkara Fishing

The most significant benefit of Tenkara fishing is perhaps that it allows you to catch more fish. Tenkara allows flies to stay in the water longer. Tenkara anglers tend to false cast less and produce longer drifts and as a result, their fly can reach more fish.

Most Tenkara lines are thinner than PVC fly lines and most of the line stays out of water. The combination of the materials used and techniques reduces your chances of scaring fish away. Tenkara’s tight line tactics let you see subtle takes by studying your line. In clear waters, this can help pressured fish beat hesitant fish.

This tight-line technique allows you to move your fly in the water column and place it where the fish are holding. The presentations might be more subtle and natural than western fly gear. Simple gear helps concentrate. Focus improves success.

How to Fish Tenkara

All you need for Tenkara is a rod, some line, and a fly. The telescopic rod’s end is connected to a stationary length of the line. Learning to cast a fly rod and put it down where you believe the fish takes very little time and is quite intuitive. Landing the fish could even take you much less time.

Many anglers choose Tenkara because it lacks a reel. Many say it is more efficient because you can focus on presentation rather than line management, while others feel it’s a true test of their talents to not rely on mechanical gadgets to catch fish. Without a reel, fish must be landed by:

  • Tilting the rod back
  • Seizing the line, and
  • Dragging it in hand over hand
A black and brown rod near a gray backpack, a gray cap on top of a big rock near a lake

If the fish runs, you have to loosen your hold on the line, mimicking a mechanical drag, then resume tugging. This hands-on approach gives you a closer connection to the fish and sport.

How Does a Tenkara Rod Work?

By now, you already know that the first Tenkara rods were made from long single-piece bamboo. To take full use of these long rods, they had to add a long, substantial wooden handle to serve as an excellent counterweight.

With the birth of Tenkara as a pastime, the experimentation of synthetic rods began. Several Tenkara anglers tried out different combinations of rods and handles to determine what was most effective for them when fishing Tenkara. As Tenkara fishing gained popularity in America, a number of companies have gone into the production of professional Tenkara rods. This includes:

  • Tenkara USA
  • TenkaraBum
  • Tenryu Tenkara Rod Brand
  • Tenkara Rod Co.
  • Zen Fly Fishing

Tenkara rods, like most other contemporary Japanese “fixed-line” (i.e. reel-less) rods, are designed to be easily collapsible and without line guides. Adding even the lightest line guides significantly affects the casting action of a Tenkara rod because it was meant to cast lines considerably lighter than fly line.

Tips for Installing a Tenkara Rod

The Tenkara rod installation process is generally straightforward if you know exactly what to do. On the other hand, it could be quite a bit of work if you don’t know how to go about it. Here’s everything you need to know for a successful installation:

  • Working the “Lillian” cord requires that you shield the rod’s point constantly
  • Using strong and secure knots would guarantee that the casting line, tippet, and rig do not experience damage. Ensure you use simple knots because the rods do not accommodate more complex versions
  • Increasing rod length is possible by starting out at the end and proceeding through the parts using a pattern that causes each part to increase by a diameter as the setup becomes larger. This effectively allows you to increase rod length
  • When collapsing the rod, the easy path would be to collapse the rod from the handle. This sees you first pulling in the sections with the larger diameters
  • To avoid causing damage to your rod, ensure that your hands are close together when you are folding. Try to assume a position that brings it as close to the joint as it can go while holding the blank on both sides

Tips for Choosing Your Line

The recommended line length when you start out with Tenkara fishing is one that is your foot shorter than your rod length or exactly your rod’s length. Using an unsuitable line, such as one that is too long for your rod, can complicate the entire learning process. Basically, there are two lines for this fishing style:

  • Short lines
  • Long lines

When fishing in tiny creeks, using a line with a shorter length than your rod is ideal. For bigger water bodies, you can elect to use a line that is the same length of your rod. Generally, a level of proficiency is necessary if you would be using a line that is longer than your rod. This is because there are certain challenges that you would have to deal with.

However, with sufficient practice and technique development, you should be able to handle them in no time.

A man wearing a blue cap and a blue long-sleeve shirt is holding a black and brown fishing rod with a neon green fishing line near a lake

How to Use a Short Line

A short line refers to Tenkara lines that are shorter than your rod. This line type requires that you hold your rod at a more parallel position when fishing. The short nature of this line type presents certain upsides, such as maximum control and presentation, better suitability to tight conditions, and there is a lower chance of snagging trees.

On the other hand, your reach would be limited, and since you have to be closer to fish to make a catch, there is a possibility of easy detection.

How to Use a Long Line

Long lines refer to any line lengths that exceed that of your Tenkara rod. Using long lines requires a level of proficiency. However, they are the better option in certain fishing scenarios.

Some upsides to using longer lines include having a better reach while staying out of the fish’s field of view, extra slack for fighting stubborn fish, and it drifts longer and further, reaching more open water.

On the other hand, there is a higher chance of getting your line tangled and snagging trees, keeping the line out of water is extra difficult, and catching fish that is close by can put you in a tricky situation as well.

Related Questions

What Is the Best Fly Fishing Style?

Tenkara is often regarded as the best fly-fishing style because the long Tenkara rod enhances accurate casting and drag-free drifting. The Tenkara pole does not have a reel, like those used in conventional fly fishing. Instead, the end of the line is attached straight to the rod.

Is Tenkara Good for Beginners?

Tenkara, with its inherent simplicity, is ideally suited for beginners. In fact, even those who have never picked up a fly rod before may learn to cast with a Tenkara rig more quickly than those who are used to casting with a heavier fly rod.


Tenkara is a popular technique that takes the complexity out of fly fishing. For many, it is an easy and natural approach to catching fish without the hassle of mastering the specialized gear and techniques required for traditional fishing. It also gives anglers the opportunity to improve their fishing techniques.