Fly-Fishing: Tenkara rods don’t have to be long to be effective

When it comes to nymphing, the longer the rod, the better the fishing.

When it comes to nymphing, the longer the rod, the better the fishing.

A longer rod makes it easier to hold your line and leader off the water and stay in direct contact with your fly or flies. You can reach over currents, rather than laying your line across them and risking your fly being dragged off course.

High-stick, tight-line nymphing is probably the single most effective way to catch trout in most circumstances. That’s why the European (and now American) competition anglers do it — and they do it using 10- and 11-foot rods.

Rod length has always been one of the keys to the success of tenkara fishing, too — along with the ultra-soft action that makes it possible to cast a line as light as a 15-foot piece of 12-pound fluorocarbon.

But there’s a paradox. Tenkara fishing is rightly billed as ideal for small streams with lots of pocket water, but those same streams are often covered with low canopies of trees and brushy banks, leaving little room to cast a 12-foot rod.

Now, the best-known seller of tenkara rods outside Japan, Tenkara USA, has rolled out two new rod models, each one adjustable to three lengths. One, the Rhodo, can fish as short as eight feet, 10 inches and as long as 10 feet, six. The other, the Sato, can be fished at 10 feet, eight inches, 11 feet, 10 inches or 12 feet, nine inches.

It’s part of the evolution of tenkara fishing in the U.S. When Tenkara USA introduced the long, telescoping rods with no reels in April 2009, the orthodox view was that all tenkara rods were long — 11 feet was considered a shorty.

But it turns out there are all kinds of telescoping “pole fishing” rods in Japan, including some that are eight feet long or even shorter. They’re technically not tenkara rods, but can be used the same way and are great fun for small wild trout on headwaters streams.

Out west, the tenkara anglers have it easy — many of their streams are wide open, with no trees or brush to interfere with casting or playing fish. Back east, where the mountains are forested all the way to their summits and the wetter climate makes for lusher streamside flora, a shorter rod comes in handy.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Daiwa Soyokaze nine-footer from Tenkarabum before the company discontinued the model. It makes it possible to fish in tight spots, and it handles average and even bigger trout surprisingly well.

This 1.6-ounce rod still has the central tenkara characteristics: a tip so flexible it can be loaded by nothing more than a leader and a fly, and an overall action so soft it can protect very fine tippets, even when playing nice trout.

Then again, I’ve never had all that much trouble with my 12-footer in small, backwoods streams. In fact, the challenge of casting in a tunnel of snaggy vegetation is part of the game. These are very often the spots where good trout are found, precisely because the surroundings offer protection from herons, kingfishers, fly-fishers, etc.

Still, it’s a positive development that five years on, the orthodoxy is less rigid and fixed-line fishing is evolving in response to American anglers’ requirements.

The new Tenkara USA rods have gotten glowing reviews from bloggers, such as Jason Klass at, who were provided them in advance of their release for field testing. They sell for $215, and complete information can be found at

They’re not Tenkara USA’s first adjustable-length rods, by the way. The company’s Ito, which fishes at 13 feet or 14 feet, seven inches, has been available for some time.

Nor are Tenkara USA’s new models the first three-position rods available in the U.S. has offered the Japanese-made Suntech Field Master, a very similar rod except it has non-skid finish on the blank rather than a cork grip, for about a year now, at a roughly comparable price.

All of these rods are excellent trout fishing tools and very much worthy of your attention, if you’re at all interested in fixed-line fly-fishing.


The Clearwater chapter of Trout Unlimited will offer beginners’ fly-tying classes every Tuesday from Jan. 14 through March 4 at St. Joseph’s Parish Center, 45 MacArthur Drive, Scotia, from 7-9 p.m. An advanced class will be offered on Thursdays from Jan. 16 through March 6. The cost is $65 for TU members and $80 for non-members, which includes a one-year membership to Trout Unlimited.

All tying materials for the classes will be provided. Students must have tying tools and a vise, however, beginners are advised not to purchase a vise until after the first class. For more information, contact Doug Howard at (518) 399-8566 or [email protected]

Categories: Sports

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