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October 22, 2011 / flogginwater

Tenkara Craze, or Crazy?

It’s funny that I made ONE post dedicated to Tenkara – and when it went up, it was THE most viewed post of the week and month, and right now is sitting at the #4 all time most read post of mine.

I got into a bit of a debate on one of the fishing forum’s of which I’m a member. A young man (teenager) who is fairly new to fly fishing asked opinions on Tenkara. I delivered my opinion, which seemed to annoy/anger one of the other members.

Simply put – I stated that Tenkara, or at least it’s modern American iteration, is a gimmick and a niche angle. Call Tenkara a gimmick and see what kind of back lash the holy converts try to unleash. The fellow tried to say that a traditional fly rod (you know, with guides and a reel seat) is horribly overpriced, but yet, the Tenkara rod is worth every penny. Now – I’m no math wizard, but it seems pretty obvious that the more “stuff” a rod has on it – guides, thread, cork, wood, etc – makes it more expensive in it’s raw form. Then you have the design & development costs, manufacture costs, etc. And of course you’re also paying for brand names, shipping, etc. So take a Tenkara USA rod (since they’re the power house of American Tenkara fishing) and take any rod of equal price point. WHICH one of those rods costs less to make, which one of those rods has more components, and which one of those rods is more versatile?

The Order of the Tenkara Brotherhood don’t want to admit that Tenkara fishing is a niche, and it’s NOT generally cut out for most conditions, most waters, or fish over about 15 inches in the average angler’s hand. Point out that Tenkara USA themselves recommends you use a leader/tippet of no more than 5lb breaking strength and oh-boy…

And then I simply pointed out that you can fish Tenkara style with any conventional fly rod – by simply reeling in (or otherwise retaining) most of the fly line and just casting the leader. Any rod NOT equal in stiffness to a pool cue should do this – softer action rods should do this better. The kicker is that the conventional rod has the ability to “reach out and touch someone”, to borrow a cliche. And the conventional rod allows one to play a fish off the reel, instead of doing broken field running trying to keep up with a running fish, or instead of breaking them off (or breaking your rod, if you don’t obey manufacture suggested line ratings).

I didn’t even bother pointing out that the fellow who has had the best, most publicized success I’ve found on the ‘net of catching bigger fish with Tenkara BROKE his rods on said fish (or at least damaged them when trying to un-stick said rods, which is equivalent in my book. A fish fucked your rod up for you, or put you in a situation your rod got fucked up. Either way sucks.)

I’m not bashing on Tenkara. I will point out that the Japanese didn’t invent fly fishing, or even the Tenkara style fly fishing. Most fishing scholars agree that the first fly angler plied his craft quite a bit further west than those pretty Pacific islands. And they’re pretty sure he wasn’t using a plastic coated fly line with a machined aluminum reel. I was accused of being closed minded and doing a dis-service to the Japanese anglers who’ve been Tenkara fishing for hundreds of years. Maybe they’re doing the dis-service to all the anglers who came before them, who fished the same way, but without the cool name attached, by claiming the method as their own and giving it said Heavenly name? Doesn’t matter to me.

I never said Tenkara fishing wasn’t fun. It can be. But it really is limited in it’s versatility, and for someone who is fairly new to fly fishing – it’d be better for them to concentrate their efforts on one aspect of the sport and get proficient with those techniques before stretching their boundaries and trying other things. I wouldn’t tell a neophyte to run out and buy a two-handed rod along with their single hander, and expect them to really get good with either technique any time soon. BOTH skills would stifle and suffer. Learn one method, then use that foundation to help learn others.

But you can’t say anything even remotely negative, or that could be bent to be negative, about Tenkara. That must be an unspoken law. If you don’t sing the praises and tow the line of the die hard “no reelers” – they get testy.

Okay, you want to get back to basics. That’s really cool (I have panfish poles that do a similar task, and they’re super fun to fish). You like little waters and little fish. I dig – because I do to. I just don’t think that the Tenkara rod is some magical wand that opens a portal to Narnia or Oz, and the Tenkara radicals need to take a pill sometimes.



  1. Cofisher / Oct 22 2011 19:52

    It's well chronicled throughout the fly fishing world that tenkara users have little or no sense of humor when it comes to their sport. That being said, I don't know anything about tenkara…I just came here to cause problems.

  2. Kev2380 / Oct 23 2011 07:47

    Good stuff, If Tenkara was the way to go you'd see more people just using cane rods or sticks to fly fish. People realized long ago those rods have their place but for versatility a traditional fly rod is the way to go. Tenkara has gotten a little gimicky and I think it is funny how they advertise it as a great small stream fly rod. They obviously have never fished a small stream in NC. They are choked with Rhododendron and there is no way you could even walk around comfortably with an 11ft anything.

  3. Mark / Oct 23 2011 14:42

    I hear you Kev. Small streams make up the bulk of my trouting – and there is just no way a 10+ foot rod is going to work on those streams, not with a leader equal to the rod length anyway. If you had only a foot or three of leader and just dapped, it *might* work, but then you'll scare a lot of fish. I have issues working an 8'6″ stick on most of those streams, and wound up building a 5'6″ rod for them, and that short rod doesn't eliminate all the hang ups either.

    If they're thinking narrow, shallow streams that aren't completely canopied in by bushy trees, Tenkara would be great. There's a stream I fish that it would really be almost perfect for – the stream never gets wider than about 30', so with an 11' rod, you could fish either bank by wading (which you have to do anyway in most places). And the runs are generally short, there's lots of pocket water, and the fish rarely get longer than 8″-10 inches. A 12″ fish is a bruiser on this stream.

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