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Review - Tenkara Rod

There was a big article recently in a major Fly Fishing magazine about Tenkara Rods.  As a result, I have fielded some questions on it.  Here is the review I published in 2010.  Still true.  Still love it.  Get yours from Mossy Creek for the Spring brookie season in the Blue Ridge!


When I heard that Mossy Creek was going to have some Tenkara rods at the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival, I was intrigued. I didn't know much about these rods, but any innovation deserves careful attention. After all, you never know when someone will invent a silver bullet. At a break in the festival action, I wandered over to chat with the guys and instantly saw the possibilities when they dangled the unusual Tenkara rod in front of me. Although you can see it in pictures on the Tenkara web site, you cannot appreciate how light and versatile it is until you hold it in your hand.

So, what the heck is a Tenkara rod? It's essentially an expandable cane pole. But, that simple description could cause you to write off  the most deadly mountain trout fishing weapon ever invented. According to the manufacturer, "Tenkara is the traditional Japanese method of fly fishing where only a rod, line and fly are used. It originated and was perfected over centuries in the mountain streams of Japan and is the ideal method of fly fishing small streams." The rods come in 11, 12 and 13 foot sizes with different performance characteristics.

After a little bit of mental back-and-forth as I tried to justify the purchase of yet another fly rod, I finally fell victim to the "spend the money" demon who constantly whispered "if you know how many fly rods you have, you don't have enough" and "it's only 135 bucks -- just sell a few more books and the wife will never notice" in my ear. Since I caved in to the voice, I need you to help with the second part! Buy my books!  In the end, the compelling argument was the same one that got me to switch from spin to fly fishing four years ago - realization that success depends on matching technique with situation. I was on a trip with my brother in the late fall. My spinner was constantly getting hung up on the leaves floating at various depths in the water column while he was having a great day on dry flies. After watching his success, I realized I had to expand my horizon.  Along those same lines, the Tenkara rod was just another tool to add to the toolbox with the particular application being mountain trout streams. What I did not appreciate until I used it was how productive this tool could make me!

I had fished the Shenandoah extensively with my normal fly rod. While generally successful, it was always a hassle to deal with all of the extra line and motion associated with launching a small fly on a short cast. I knew the line slap of the fly line on the water was impacting my success rate on the still mountain pools. In addition, the pull of the current consistently tugged my excess line downstream; adding to the chore of freeing it up for a gentle cast. The Tenkara solves the problem by eliminating the heavy fly line and substituting a long furled leader terminating in light tippet. So, does this boil down to "dapping" without casting? How boring would that be? The simple answer is no. This is a full fly fishing experience without a reel. Casting is important, loops are important, gentle presentation is important... in short, everything you have to do with a normal fly rod, you have to do with this one. The only difference is that you do not have to mess with a bunch of line; freeing you to fish rather than fight with technique and the environment.

With all this as background, I carefully crept up to my first pool on the headwaters of the Rapidan. It took all of two minutes to get used to casting the furled leader. A full motion is not required -- the wrist is plenty as long as you mimic the normal "hurry up stop" motion. By only having the wrist moving, there was less commotion on the side of the stream to spook trout in the shallow, clear water. I was sold when, on my second cast, I had a hit on the size 18 fly that I had just presented as delicately as a pro. With every cast, I became even more convinced that the rod, and associated fishing approach, had opened an entirely new world to me. The furled leader floated to the surface of the water at the end of the cast; creating hardly a ripple. The fly at the end of the tippet dropped without force to gently plop -- identical to a real fly -- on the surface of the pool.  The explosive strikes from aggressive 6 to 8 inch brookies -- Rapidan monsters -- provided the final, clinching argument that I'd stumbled upon something priceless.

As I continued to fish my way upstream, I encountered overhanging vegetation. With my traditional fly rod, this would require all sorts of contortions to try and flip a fly around or under the obstacle. Not so with the Tenkara. Fully extended, the one I have is 11 feet long. But if I needed the rod to be 6 feet long, all I had to do was collapse sections into the handle and cast with the remaining extended the length. Granted, the shorter you make the rod, the more difficult it is to cast the long, furled leader. However, the tip seems to be flexible enough to deal with this once you get the hang of it. With a rod that I could change, I could now get a fly into places I had only dreamed about before.

Another clear advantage was the reduced amount of hand-eye coordination needed to operate the rod effectively. Since the sum total of the motion was flicking a wrist, I could cast with equal agility with either hand; making it easier to attack the stream from any angle or direction. As I continued to use the rod, I thought to myself how easy it would be to teach a new fly angler how to use this since there is no complicated motion. You get all of the action and the results of using traditional fly gear without hours of practice.

So, how did it perform on the Rapidan? Did I feel constrained by only having 15 feet of actual line? Absolutely not. On a small mountain stream, 15 feet is all you need. And the results? Beyond that first experience on the Rapidan, I used the rod on the Hazel and the North Fork of the Thornton. On each of those expeditions, I caught far more fish than ever before; a success rate I attribute to the soft presentation and the additional stealth gained by not having to deal with line slap and the full range of fish-scaring motion associated with traditional gear.

I am such a believer in this rod that I actually took some short video clips to share on YouTube. Crank up the volume because I didn't lay down the soundtrack loud enough - listen to the discussion of the casting motion and observe how little effort is required to be successful. The last video is a great idea to rig the rod for movement. You can buy a small blue spool made for the rod upon which you wrap your line to store it for movement.  Fully collapsed with the line stored, it is a trivial matter to wiggle through dense vegetation to get to the best spot. The guy in the last video has a better idea that is faster and you can even store your rod in the tube already rigged and ready to go using his method.

Bottom Line: Buy one of these rods before they make them illegal.  They are deadly.  If you fish on small water, pick up the phone right now and call Mossy Creek  to order one of these at 866-667-9275!  Mossy Creek is one of only three distributors in the US and they are local - two good reasons to support them.

Disclaimer: I paid for everything discussed.No freebies.



So... now that you have one, how do you rig it to quickly move from place to place?  Check out this video

Tell a friend about this article by clicking on this link

Works just fine on the brookies

... as well as their big cousins

Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore

Disclaimer and Warning:  The contents of this site reflect the opinion of the author and you, the reader, must exercise care in the use and interpretation of this information.  Fishing is a dangerous sport.  You can slip and fall on rocks and sustain severe injury.  You can drown.  You can get hooks caught in your skin, face, eyes or other sensitive places.  All sorts of bad things can happen to you when to go into the woods to visit the places documented here.  Forests, streams and lakes are wild areas and any number of bad things can happen.  You must make your own judgment in terms of acceptable behavior and risk and not rely on anything posted here.  I disclaim all liability and responsibility for any actions you take as a result of reading the articles on this site.  If you do not agree with this, you should not read anything posted on this site.

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