I am posting this here to start a quick reference for members and FB group members. I will edit it with more info soon. Feel free to ask questions here or on FB. I notice a jump in tenkara intrest, it ties in really well to HPG gear. It is also epic fun.
Tenkara crash course.
This is a boiled down intro to Tenkara fishing. For much more detailed info check out tenkarabum.com
What it is- Tenkara is a term used to describe a fixed line style of fishing used in the mountain streams of japan. Though it shares strong similarities to other areas of the world. Like a style used by Native Americans from northern California. The Tenkara boom we are seeing now is Japanese based.
What it is not- cane pole fishing or dapping. Tenkara rods, lines, and flies are designed to be cast. With a very flexible, long rod ( some over 15 feet) and long line, and tippet combo sometimes as long as 20 feet you can cast decent distance.
The components. The rods- The modern Tenkara rod is a sectional rod. Some collapse down bellow 15 inches in length making them very compact. Quality rods are made with very high end carbon fiber tubes. Because of that some rods weigh in at sub 2 ounces. Making them a perfect match for backpacking trips. Just like any gear related sport there are many levels of quality, design theory and use cases. Forward I will be only referring to carbon fiber rods. These fall into a few main design aspects. First is the length most range from 10 feet to 14 ish feet. Some are shorter, some slightly longer. But the bulk fall in that range. Next the “action” also see “penny rating” (more on that at tenkarabum.com) essentially is the stiffness and ability to flex. Some have stiffer rear sections and more forward flex etc. The third type of rod is called a “zoom” rod these are designed to be fished at (normally) 3 different lengths. So the sections “lock” at 3 lengths. The rods can be fragile, established rod sellers have strong warranty programs and cheap replacement sections. Better quality rods barring user error and mishaps are more durable.
Picking a rod/use case- The most common length is from the high 11 feet to mid 12 feet length. That rod length will get you into most conditions and is very versatile. It’s also a bit less awkward to deal with for new users. Short rods have less versatility but can be great in heavy brush, very small creeks and tight conditions. Longer rods take a bit more practice and experience but can be an advantage if you are fishing an area that opens up. It’s common to purchase a longer rod as your second.
Starting at the end of the rod the following are the minimal components needed to fish. The tip section of a tenkara rod has a small length of cord attached either bonded or via a crimped and bonded metal swivel. This cord is called the Lillian and is used to attach the line. It’s normally bright red cord.
Lines- there are a few options but the most common are what’s called furled (two lines twisted) and level line one continuous line thickness. Due to the weight the furled line is easier to cast for someone new and more resistant to breezes and wind but tangles easy and is at a fixed length. The other downside is a furled line can sag and cause drag on the water.
Level line is sold in a few weights, 2.5, 3.0,3.5,4.0 etc. the larger the number the heavier the line. I choose a heavy line for windy conditions, but shoot for the lightest I can to avoid sag or drag, This is a common technique. Other advantages of level line is that it can be easily spliced or trimmed to match conditions, remove a bad tangle etc.
Tippet- this is the connection to the fly/lure from the line it also your rods insurance policy. Tippet gets heavier with a smaller number designation. 5x tippet is the go to for tenkara but 6x and 7x can also be used. Unlike western fly fishing you WANT the tippet to snap before the rod so very light tippet is safer. Light tippet is also advantageous to fishing tactics. It has a less chance of being seen by the fish or disturbing the water with drag.
Finally the fly/lure. This is can be a rabbit black hole to fall in. You decide how complicated or simple you want to do it. Some people fish only a few patterns or hundreds. You can buy them or tie your own. There are a few tenkara focused flies that are VERY effective. The kebari and it’s variants, also the killer bug and it’s variants are staples.
Onto my starting out suggestions.
1. Get a decent rod, you don’t have to go all out and buy rare Japanese rods to have excessive fun. But the cheapo rods tend to wind up more trouble than they are worth. The big players in the US and some of the smaller ones. Import Chinese made blanks or fully completed and private labeled rods. The big players are Tenkara USA, Tenkara rod Co. and Dragontail Tenkara. There are a bunch of smaller sellers that either PL Chinese rods or Import Japanese rods. Tanuki Tenkara is worth mentioning here because he does his own thing. He designs rods for western waters and has them made in china. They are very nice.
I recommend Dragontail as a starting point. The shadow fire model is good quality, a versatile length, on the stiff side, durable and has a decent warranty. Dragontail has everything to get started in one place. They also have full support for the rods with cheap replacement parts. You can find the rod alone for right around 100 USD through amazon or direct from them.
2. Level line for sure. A spool of level line allows you to make a few lengths. Giving you more options. Choose a heavier line 3.5, 4.0, 4.5 to get you started. Match the rod length for your first line length. Then move up when you get used to casting.
3. Tippet is found at most sporting goods stores and anywhere western fly fishing gear is sold. Start with 5x, the cheap stuff is fine. 3-4 feet for set up.
4. Flies, etsy and ebay are a good source for deals on flies. I would suggest sticking to only a few patterns out of the gate size 12-16 kebaris, size 10-14 killer bugs, small wooly buggers and san juan worms are all very effective. Try to get at least a dozen. You will lose them!
5. Spools, are handy and cheap they can also be found on ebay, amazon or direct. The blue plastic version you will see is the most popular and durable. A two pack is great to start with. They allow you to easily store pre rigged complete lines. Making changes in the field fast.
6. Forceps and nippers, really the only tools you need. Forceps are really important when catching small fish or working with small flies. So much less stress on the fish and safer to remove a deep set hook or in a tiny fish mouth. Some forceps have solid flats than can be used to crimp barbs. Nippers make changing flies, clipping tag ends of knots close etc. so much quicker. Both tools are easy to find and can be had very cheap.
7. Bonus stuff that’s worth considering. Tippet rings, they are very small steel rings that attach between the tippet and line. This allows you to change tippet without constantly shortening your line by clipping and re-tying knots. I swear by them.
A landing net, make sure to get one with a silicone net or a design that resists snagging on the fish. The make proper catch and release a breeze and retrieval so much easier.
Finally a rod mounted line holder/winder. I prefer the folding, o-ring attached hook keeper stlye, they make set up and take down super fast. So you can move from spot to spot quickly.
That's about it, get out there!