Small stream fishing? There is nothing more effective and easy to use on a mountain trout stream than a Tenkara flyfishing set up; especially if you are a new fly angler. Why? Think about the typical small stream; it’s surrounded by dense vegetation and, yes, small and narrow. Once you sneak up, the fish are within spitting distance of where you silently crouch. The last thing you want to do is manage an awkward fly rod with heavy line using multiple false casts to flop a fly less than 20 feet away from your hiding position. If fishing with spin gear, it is even worse with the splash of the spinner spooking the entire pool. Tenkara fishing avoids those problems by eliminating the fly reel, heavy fly line and, for spin fishers, the heavy spinner. Instead, a Tenkara rod allows you to flip a short section of light line to land a small fly softly into that sweet spot. With a one-minute learning curve, it is also the easiest and fastest way to transition from spin fishing to fly fishing – think dapping with a wrist flick.
How does it work? A Tenkara flyfishing set up consists of a collapsible rod with a short section of line and a couple flies. As with anything associated with the sport of fly fishing, you can still spend a fortune even though you avoid the cost of the fly reel and 100 feet of unique line. However, as Tenkara has grown in popularity, so have inexpensive options. My first Tenkara rod cost over $100 in 2008. While you can still mimic my history and empty your wallet, Tenkara equipment is so simple that the economic solutions perform just as well as the expensive ones. Here’s how to start Tenkara fishing for less than $20!
The cheapest a Tenkara rods are probably not called Tenkara rods. Instead, the sellers on Amazon use tortured language like “CUTEQ Fishing Rod Ultralight Pole Super Hard Telescopic Carbon Fiber 2.7-6.3m for Outdoor Fishing”, “Uxcell a11081700ux0041 Traveling 9 Sections Telescopic Pole Fishing Fisherman Tool Rod 2.5M Orange” or “Plastic Freshwater Retractable Seven Sections Telescopic Fishing Rod.” All these options cost less than $10 with the first one coming in at a record low of $4.31. The best way to find “Tenkara” rods where the description does not include the word “Tenkara” is to use the search term “Carbon Fiber Rod Fishing” or something similar and sort from low to high. eBay is another source inexpensive Tenkara type rods.
Looking at the results, eliminate choices not intended for Tenkara fishing. To figure out which ones are appropriate for Tenkara versus cane poles or generic collapsible spin rods, look at the rod tip in the picture. If it shows a “lillian,” the rod is usable as a Tenkara rod. The lillian is a short section of fabric glued to the rod tip used to attach the fly line to the rod. If it has a line guide, it is not Tenkara! If you want to see other options, review the related products Amazon lists at the bottom of the screen as this section may show rods that were not presented in the initial search. Finally, do not purchase any rod over 3 m in length unless you are a Tenkara fanatic who wants to use the technique on broad streams.
With so many options costing so little, how do you choose? Simple. Do not buy any rod not made from carbon fiber. The three possibilities linked above are carbon fiber, metal, and plastic respectively. Of those, I purchased and tested the carbon fiber and metal versions. The carbon fiber rod I used was a different model than the one quoted in this article and cost a whopping $9.67 from eBay. While the metal version worked, it tended to stick when being collapsed and I was concerned a healthy fish would cause the metal to flex to the point of bending. The carbon fiber option performed just as well as the expensive TenkaraUSA rods I purchased years ago. My YouTube channel has reviews of both, along with other Tenkara guidance, in this playlist.With so many options costing so little, how do you choose? Simple. Do not buy any rod not made from carbon fiber. The three possibilities linked above are carbon fiber, metal, and plastic respectively. Of those, I purchased and tested the carbon fiber and metal versions. The carbon fiber rod I used was a different model than the one quoted in this article and cost a whopping $9.67 from eBay. While the metal version worked, it tended to stick when being collapsed and I was concerned a healthy fish would cause the metal to flex to the point of bending. The carbon fiber option performed just as well as the expensive TenkaraUSA rods I purchased years ago. My YouTube channel has reviews of both, along with other Tenkara guidance, in this playlist.
There are a few differences between cheap and expensive. The first is none of the inexpensive versions have a cork handle. Instead, you grip the narrow bottom section of the collapsible rod. While the cork handle is more comfortable since it is thicker and more comfortable to grasp, I cannot justify paying another hundred dollars for that single feature. Another difference is the cheaper versions do not offer the option to replace a broken tip. A quick check on the website to see what it would cost to buy a replacement tip for one of my expensive rods revealed I would pay $17 for that benefit. Clearly, if you are worried about breaking a tip, by an extra rod and take it with you. After breaking several tips, here are two tip tips! First, do not use any tippet stronger than 5X. Second, never use the rod to pull a fly out of a tree. Instead, grip the line to keep from stressing the tip,
Once you purchase the rod, outfit it with the appropriate line. To be ultracheap, just use eleven feet of 10-pound fluorocarbon line. I prefer using a furled leader, and there are plenty of options available on Amazon using the search “tenkara line” that come in around $10. Do not buy a Tenkara line holder – one of those blue round wheels – they are a waste of money since they are hard to use on the stream. Instead, glue a few picture hooks onto the bottom section of the rod as I show in this video. Finally, 0 or 1 wt level fly line works well with 100 feet available on eBay and Amazon for around $10 – just clip off eleven feet (starting from the reel end if the line is the weight forward type).
What’s the total cost so far? Carbon fiber rod ($4.31) + furled line from Maxcatch ($11.45) + a few flies equals less than $20! If the rod has any reviews, I recommend plugging the Amazon link into Fakespot.com to assess whether the reviews are contrived. Sadly, some fishing gear manufacturers pump fake reviews into their products. Check out my video on this sad state of affairs.
So! If you are hesitating about getting into fly fishing and fish small water, here is the very inexpensive way to see if you like this type of fishing. I guarantee you will be more successful on mountain streams given the flawlessly simple casting technique combined with the perfectly natural fly presentation!