Tenkara Fly Fishing: What Is It All About?

Tenkara Fly Fishing: What Is It All About?


By: Minturn Anglers Guide Graham Moran

What is Tenkara Fly Fishing?

First off, welcome to the wonderful world of Tenkara. You are about to enter into an experience like no other.But, be forewarned, you may be thinking that you want to start a new hobby. It will start as a hobby and will quickly grow into an obsession of huge magnitude.The following is the beginning of a series on Tenkara fly fishing. I will do my best to to give you all the cool details about this ancient Japanese art. My intention in this series will be to take you from Tenkara’s humble beginnings to what it is today. I will introduce you to the equipment that I have used as well as the techniques that I have found to be productive. My ultimate goal of this series will be to allow you, as the reader, to learn what I can teach you and open the doors to additional avenues to find other cool stuff that goes along with Tenkara. Before you know it, you will become a member of an ever expanding family of Tenkara practitioners around the world. I will do my best to keep the series flowing but at times even the rivers of life slow and we need to take a break.I look forward to hearing your comments and questions in the future.P.S. Just a quick FYI. My lovely wife, Elizabeth and I will be taking our much needed honeymoon shortly and will be completely off the grid for 16 days. During this window I will have a few guest bloggers appearing for your reading pleasure. So check back often.

Tenkara Fly Fishing Equipment & Gear

My Personal Equipment 11′ TenkaraUSA Iwana Tenkara Rod 13′ TenkaraUSA Amago Tenkara Rod 13′-14’7″ TenkaraUSA Ito Tenkara Rod (Hopefully a few more rods as time goes on) Suggested Equipment To Start With When Beginning Tenkara  (Per TenkaraUSA.com) 1 11′ to 12′ Tenkara Rod Either a Furled Line or Level Line approximately the same length as your selected rod to start Tippet 5x or 6x recommended A small selection of flies (Tenkara flies are tied a specific way but western flies will work) A good ability to tie strong knots. (The best part, this one is free except a little time to learn the knots.)This is all you need to get started in Tenkara fishing but it won’t take long to gather more stuff that will drive your significant other crazy when you continue adding more items to your kit (trust me I know), although I would suggest starting with the basic list first and then build up. Tenkara is fly fishing simplified and because of this you should try and keep it that way until you learn the techniques required which are not hard at all to learn (even a doofus like me can learn it) but the less stuff you have the more you can focus on fishing and not on stuff.

<Additional Items That Can Make Things Easier But Don’t Make A Tenkara Fisherman The items listed below will make your day easier on the river but are not absolutely necessary. Do I have these items? Yes. Do I use them every day that I am on the water? No. Then why have them? Why not A Vest or Chest Pack. In my opinion and in the interest of simplicity I prefer a chest pack because it keeps me from carrying a whole bunch of extra stuff and walking around with ridiculous amounts of trash as well. Maybe if I was going to go out for a few consecutive days I would consider a vest, but even though I do own a few I still do not believe that I would use a vest as my first choice. More on this later.

A Net. A net makes landing a fish much easier but in Tenkara you can hand line a fish with very little difficulty and in the long run in my opinion causes less damage to the fish and even may decrease the stress the fish experiences after being caught. Professional guides, books, and other fisherman I have talked to have stated that a net bag made of a fine mesh is the best way to go to avoid rubbing the slime off of the fish. The slime on the fish’s body protects it from many environmental factors and the life of a fish can be affected if this slime is removed in too large a quantity. By the way TenkaraUSA markets a traditional Tenkara net called a Tamo in two sizes. Check them out.

A Good Pair of Waders. There are many factors that you need to look at when purchasing a pair of waders. I am not an expert on this subject so I can really only suggest that you go to a reputable outdoor equipment store or a fly shop of your choice and speak to the employees who work there. They are trained to sell waders and more than likely use the waders that they sell. I would also suggest that you talk to other fisherman and ask their opinions. I can only warn you that price does sometimes equate to quality so be careful before you go cheap because from my own experience cheap only means you will spend more in the long run. Make sure you have a wading belt!!!!!! No arguments on this item!!!!!!!!!

A Good Pair of Wading Boots. As with waders, boots are not my area of expertise so please heed my advice from above. I can tell you that you need to be aware of the specific regulations where ever you intend to fish since some states and even specific areas have laws written about the kinds of soles that can be on your boots due to invasive species such as New Zealand Mud Snails, Zebra Mussels, and Quagga Mussels. Due to these invasive species things can get bad so please honor the requests that the government caretakers of our waters request.


A Wading Staff. I have read many books and articles that discuss wading safety and that a wading staff can be a great item to carry. I will be honest, I have never carried a wading staff but I think in the right situation it  probably would not be a horrible idea. Staffs are not just used for stability, but also to probe the bottom of the river to make sure that you don’t step into or step off a ledge into water that forces you to take a unintended bath. Many staffs on the market are collapsible and have their own carrying bags which can be attached to your wading belt. They should be accessible from what I understand and storing it in your day pack doesn’t count. Although just because you have car insurance and a license that are not on you when you are driving doesn’t make you a driver because you own a car.

A Small Pair of Nippers. A small pair of nail clippers will work fine or you can purchase a pair of nippers at your local sporting goods store or fly shop. They make cutting tippet easier and faster and they save your teeth. Tippet seems thin but don’t let that fool you.

A Pair of Forceps. Forceps are used to remove a hook from a fish’s lip with minimal damage. The forceps can also serve a number of additional operations such as crimping the barb on your hook, thus increasing the ease of removal from the hook from the fish’s mouth or a fishing partner’s ear (don’t ask) or even pulling a hook embedded in your finger (again, don’t ask). And trust me, you will find plenty more useful functions for a pair of forceps. Maybe a written in blog poll for forceps uses beyond fishing.

A Pair of Polarized Sunglasses. I can tell you and every other avid fisherperson will tell you the same thing. Get a very good quality pair of polarized shades. Trust me on this one. They will make or break your day of fishing in more ways than one. For one, they will break the glare on the water so that you can see the fish that you are trying to target also they will increase your on water safety by allowing you to see clearly where you are placing your feet when walking in the water. The one thing I look forward is a very high UVA/UVB scale on the glasses because reflective light can be very bad on your eyes. You want them to wrap around your face and cut as much glare from below the frame as well.


Fly Boxes. All I can say is that you can never have too many fly boxes (my fiancee would agree with that statement!) In Tenkara you really only need a few flies in a very small range of sizes. According to Daniel at TenkaraUSA, Mr. Ishigaki uses only one fly but some fisherpersons will tell you that they like to use western patterns to “match the hatch” and I have done the same thing but if you want to go with very traditional Tenkara you should be using kebari flies and nothing else. I have seen some beautiful Tenkara fly boxes that have come on the market recently. I am still deciding on what I want in a fly box so when I find what I like I  will let you know but for now try as many boxes as you can that will work with your rig of choice.

Fly Floatant. Floatant gives your flies the ability to stay afloat a little longer and not become water logged. In Tenkara floatant is not used but if you want to use it feel free, just be aware that floatant is not the safest stuff to breath. With practice you can learn to dry your fly with a minimum of false casting.


Leader Sink/Split Shot. Both of these items allow you to get an unweighted fly down to the fish that are lower in the water column but I personally find that you do not need that additional weight. Additionally from what I understand from some of the reading on other blogs and sites regarding Tenkara additional weight is not necessary at all. That being said, I don’t have much more to add.


Knot Tying Tool. You can get one of these gizmos if you want but there are so few knots that are required in Tenkara and with a little practice they are so easy to do that this tool is really best gotten when it is given to you as a gift from your small child as a birthday present or a stocking stuffer on Christmas morning. I would suggest saving your money and buying flies or saving up for something bigger and better.


Your Lucky Hat. Come on what fisherperson does not have a lucky hat? Even better if it says something about Tenkara on it, right? I would suggest a light colored hat with a dark material on the bottom of the brim to assist with glare reduction and eye strain. Make sure that hat fits firmly on your head since it is your lucky hat you don’t want it to get blown off your head.


A Light Rain Jacket. Seriously, do I even need to describe this?


And One Last Item That Every Tenkara Fisher Person Can Get But Doesn’t Need! MORE TENKARA RODS AND STUFF My Personal Gear List for a Day on the River with My Fishing Buddies (Be nice and I might take you with me) Still under Construction. A Tenkara Rod. Either 11′ Iwana or 13′ Amago or 13′-14’7″ Ito Tenkara Lines. Furled Lines and Level Tippet. 5x and 6x TenkaraUSA Tamo. Traditional Japanese Tenkara Net. Waders. Redington Sonic Waist Waders Boots. Chestpack. Mountain Ridge Gear (Review coming soon) Polarized Sunglasses. Waterproof Camera.

It’s time to nail down your 2024 fly fishing trip with Minturn Anglers.

About the Author

Justin Nolan

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