By Daniel Galhardo
This blog entry is a transcription from the Tenkara Cast podcast episode “Choosing a tenkara rod, tenkara line, and tenkara flies.” We have had many requests to have the podcasts transcribed and are happy to present the first one here. The podcast episode may be found here
Even though tenkara is simple and when we go out we’re not carrying much, I totally recognize that when we’re shopping for the tenkara rod, the first tenkara rod especially, like anything else, it’s daunting. We don’t have a huge number of options but how does one go about selecting the right rod, the right line and the right fly to start fishing with?
Today’s episode, will provide a very brief overview of the equipment used in tenkara and then specifically about the lineup of rods that we offer at Tenkara USA. I’m going to talk about the two different lines that we offer for tenkara and then the four flies. The flies are probably the easier part because it’s more on the philosophy and that kind of thing.
An overview of the equipment used in tenkara
Let’s talk about the overview of the equipment that you need to use for tenkara. On average, our tenkara rods are 12 feet long and telescope down to an average of 20 inches. Some of them were designed to fish at one specific length while others can be used at two or three different lengths.
At the end of the rod you’re going to be tying a fixed length of line. Usually, it’s going to be about the same length as the rod when you’re just beginning. At the end of your tenkara line, you’re going to tie approximately four feet of tippit. Tippit is just the thin fishing line that goes between the line and the fly. And then you have fly.
There’s no need for leaders in tenkara in the traditional tenkara lines that are offered by us. You just go straight tenkara line, tip it, fly and that’s it. No need to complicate things with leaders.
If you’re coming from a western fly-fishing background, that might sound really long but essentially, we’re substituting running line for a rod. You can ask anybody and they’ll tell you that once you start fishing with a tenkara rod, 12 feet is really not that long. It’s not nearly as intimidating as it sounds. I just want to put that to rest early on that, yes, it sounds long but that’s the average length of a rod and you get used to it very quickly.
Let me talk specifically about the lineup of rods that we offer, why we have different rod models and how we go about deciding which rods to get. Our rods range from 8 feet, 10 inches to 14 feet, 7 inches. There are five different rod models that we offer. I’m going to start with the shortest and talk about the longest at the end.
The shortest rod that we offer is the Rhodo, Rhodo. We named it after Rhododendron which is a kind of tree that is all over eastern streams in particular, and it tends to make the streams very tight and requires a shorter rod. The first rod in our lineup is the Rhodo and the Rhodo’s a cool rod because it’s an adjustable rod, you can fish it at three different lengths. You can fish it at 8 feet, 10 inches, 9 feet, 8 inches, 10 feet, six inches. They are specifically designed to be fished at three different lengths by a little bulge in one of the segments and also there’s a special plug that we developed to hold everything in place.
The next rod up from the Rhodo in terms of length, is the Sato. The Sato is also an adjustable rod, you can fish it at three different lengths but it’s a little bit longer. You can fish it at 10 feet, 8 inches, 11 feet, 10 inches, and 12 feet, 9 inches. The Sato is probably our bread and butter, our main recommendation. That covers the main lengths of tenkara rods, on average, very versatile rod.
After the Sato, we have the Iwana. The Iwana’s the name of a fish in Japan and it’s actually one of the very first rods that we developed. We’ve had a couple of different iterations of the Iwana but it’s been one of our most popular rods since we started selling it six and a half years ago. The Iwana’s designed to be fished at 12 feet. Although it’s telescopic it is not adjustable which makes it a great value rod, as it’s a little less expensive.
After the Iwana, we have the Amago. The Amago is a 13 and a half-foot long rod and it’s what we classify as our big fish rod. If you know you’re going to be catching larger fish and by larger, I mean, 18-20 inch fish and over, very often, the Amago is the rod to look at.
After that, the fifth and final rod in our lineup is the Ito. The Ito is an adjustable rod that you can fish at 13 feet long or 14 feet, 7 inches.
That gives you the sense of the lengths of the tenkara rods and that’s going to be the primary distinction among all of the rods that we offer. Over time, I have simplified the rod options in terms of action and that kind of thing. They all fish somewhat similarly, the length’s going to be the main distinction with the exception of the Amago. That has a lot more beefiness to it, a lot more backbone and that kind of thing, it’s our big fish rod.
Deciding on the rod to get
How do you go about deciding which rod to get? That’s very common question and before I delve into that, I want to put something to rest here. I want to put your mind at ease a little bit. Don’t over think the decision too much because the rods, regardless of the rod that you get, you can use it in a variety of different waters. They’re not so specialized that when you catch a small fish you’re not going to feel anything or anything like that. It might be a little bit too long in some smaller streams but you can always choke up in a grip and that kind of thing. You can use it in a variety of different waters but what I’m going to be talking about here more specifically, is how to choose the best first rod that you can for the kinds of waters you fish the most. Again, don’t overthink it too much, whatever rod you get you will get used to the feel of it and you will have a great time with it, regardless.
There are two main decision points here that I think we have to keep in mind when we’re choosing a rod. The main one is going to be the kind of water you’re fishing. By kind of water you’re fishing, I mean, the vegetation around it, the width of the stream or river, and how big the water is. Then, the second point is going to be the size of the fish.
Let me talk about size of fish first because that simplifies our choices. Any of the tenkara rods work great for the 10 to 20 inch fish but if you know that you’re going to be constantly targeting larger fish and by larger I mean, let’s say 17 inch trout and over. Or you’re going after bass quite a bit, then one rod that I really like to recommend you look at is the Amago.
The Amago is what we classify as our big fish rod. If you’re going to be fishing for a variety of fish and occasionally might hook a 20 incher any of the rods work fine. That gets that out of the way, right away.
Water size and type
Let’s talk about types of water. Actually, I should mention, in terms of size of fish, even our lightest rod will handle the occasional 20-inch fish. The Amago is just what makes it easier to bring the fish in a little bit more quickly because we built a little extra resistance into it.
The Ito’s a good option as well if you’re targeting larger fish because you get a longer rod, a little bit more leverage to play fish with and it works really well. Those two rods, I’d say are the ones to use, if you’re targeting larger fish in bigger waters.
Let’s talk about types of waters that you are fishing. When it comes to types of waters as I mentioned, there’s two things to keep in mind: vegetation and the size of the water itself. Vegetation is the kind of trees we find around us and on top of us. Ask yourself, “Are you fishing waters that have tons of canopy right overhead and maybe the canopy’s only 15-20 feet high? Are there deciduous trees that shoot over the stream? Or is it more of evergreens that stay on the side of the streams?”
When it comes to vegetation, if you have a lot of canopy and just a lot of foliage, a shorter rod is going to start feeling a little bit easier because you can control things a little bit more and you can more easily stay away from branches hanging overhead.
If you have an open stream with pine trees like evergreens on the shores, you can get away with longer rods much more easily. With that in mind, we’re finding that people fishing eastern streams, like those in the Appalachian mountains for example, where the foliage is lush and dense, tend to like the shorter rods like the Rhodo, for example. If you’re fishing western streams, and this is a generalization, we tend to have a lot of pine trees and evergreens, we can get away with longer rods. We recommend shooting for the longest rod that you can for the kind of water you’re going to be fishing. The Sato is our main recommendation.
Each rod and when I recommend them
I’m now going to talk about the rods and how we recommend them. Then, you can probably make a decision based on that as opposed to talking about vegetation because whatever rod you’re going to get, you’re going to be fishing a variety of types of waters anyways.
The Sato’s the one that I really like to recommend. It is an adjustable rod that you can fish from 10 feet, 8 inches to 12 feet, 9 inches. That’s our main recommendation pretty much across the board as it gives you a longer rod when you want it, and also a shorter length. We really like to recommend the Sato as it covers the main lengths. If you want to fish even shorter, you can hold it above the handle and essentially, you can effectively fish the Sato at about nine to nine and a half feet long. This is very short in terms of tenkara rods. Aside from having the adjustable feature the Sato also has a place to store the plug while you are fishing, which we developed. It’s unique because you don’t lose the plug.
The one next one I’d recommend is the Iwana. The Iwana is just a really good value, good rod for the price. The Iwana’s a 12-foot long rod. If you choke up on the grip, you can fish it at around 11 feet or so.
Those are our main recommendations. I’d start looking at those but if you’re telling yourself that you’re fishing very tight waters all the time, your favorite kind of water is going to be head waters, very dense canopy places then look at the Rhodo.
The Rhodo’s the shortest rod in our lineup, 8 feet, 10 inches to 10 and a half feet. If you were to grip the rod above the handle, you can effectively fish at the shortest length which is around 7 and a half feet long. I consider the Rhodo a little bit more of a specialized rod if you know you’re fishing very tight waters most often.
Then, we have the Ito, which is our longest rod. It’s a little bit more specialized and on the other end of the spectrum at 13 feet or 14 feet, 7 inches. It’s an adjustable rod and it’s the primary one that I like to recommend if you’re fishing bigger kinds of waters like the Madison River or the Delaware River. By bigger waters I mean where you can be in the water, or it’s usually a little bit more open but you want extra reach and that kind of thing. As I mentioned earlier, any of the rods can be used interchangeably in a variety of water and try to get the longest rod you can. Personally, I actually use the Ito almost everywhere. Once you get used to the longer length of tenkara rods and how to maneuver them, you can start using them in a lot of different kinds of waters you might not expect.
I use the Ito to fish my home water of Boulder Creek, here in Boulder Colorado. It’s probably about 30 feet across on average, and up to 40 feet across at the widest part. Some places have a canopy, while some places have more pine trees on the on the shore. I use the Ito at around 13 feet long pretty much all the time there because I’m used to the longer length and I use a shorter line. When fishing in Boulder Creek I use 13 to 14 foot, seven inch rod with about 12 to 13 feet of line. I mentioned that just to give you a sense that you can use one rod in a variety and kinds of waters as well.
Let’s look at the Sato first as it is a great rod that is adjustable and has a very lightweight feeling on the hand. It also has a nice feature to prevent you from losing the plug. It’s the rod that I designed to eliminate the anxiety of trying to choose a rod that you want at 12 feet long and at a good value.
The Rhodo is our shortest rod and it’s going to be good if you know you’re fishing very tight waters all the time.
The Ito tends to be a really popular second rod for a lot of people once you get used to the length of tenkara rods. The Ito is a longer, more intimidating rod in the beginning but a lot of people get it as their second rod. I do love it. If you’re fishing larger kinds of waters and you want something that can also accommodate large fish I recommend the Ito.
If you’re going after very large fish very often, the Amago’s a great rod option.
Those are the five rods that we have in our lineup. I’m hoping that this gives you an idea why they exist.
We try to have very little overlap between our rods and we have to feel very strongly that there’s a reason for a rod to exist in our lineup for us to offer it. We’ve discontinued a few rods and we’ve released a few new rods over the years . If you fish in very tight waters, or all around kind of waters, then you get one of the middle lengths. Big fish or big waters, then you can go for one of the longer lengths. That’s kind of how you can look at it.
One day we’ll have one rod that does it all but for now, those five rods are what we offer and I hope that this gives you an idea of how to decide which rod to get.
One rod can fish in a variety of waters really well so don’t feel too much pressure to decide on the perfect rod. If you want to keep it simple, get a Sato or the Iwana, those are two great rods.
Now, let’s talk about lines. There are two different lines that are typically used with tenkara. The two lines that we offer are the tapered line and the level line. The tapered line and the level line are a little bit different form each other and there’s pros and cons. I’ll talk about them first and I’ll find a way to help you keep it simple.
The tapered line can be purchased or made into a specific length. Our tapered lines come in 11 feet and 13 feet. The advantage of the tapered line is that it’s incredibly easy to cast and to set up. Honestly, there’s not a huge difference in terms of how long it’s going to take you to learn how to cast, the level line over the tapered line. The tapered line is a furled line that has to be handmade. It’s has texture to it and it’s at a specific length.
The level line on the other hand, is a line that looks a little bit more what most people recognize as a fishing line. It’s a line designed specifically for casting with a tenkara rod and comes in a spool of 65 feet. From there, you can cut whatever length you want so it’s a little bit more versatile in that way.
When possible, I’d like to recommend people try both lines because it really comes down mostly to a matter of personal preference and how you can feel casts. It’s not like one line is better for one condition over the other and that kind of thing. I, personally, am a level line guy. I use the level line only. It’s also what one of my main teachers uses. I find that the versatility in the level line where I can cut whatever length I want, I can join two lines together, if I want to I can cut some off when I’m fishing, I like that part of it.
Let’s talk about the two different lines again. The tapered line, you make it or buy a certain length. Super easy to cast and set up the first time. It might take you two or three casts to learn how to cast it. The level line on the other hand, might take you six or seven casts, I mean, it’s not a big difference here. You can make it whatever length you want and you can adjust it as, on the go if you really feel that you need to.
With the level line, things start getting a little bit more complex only because we felt there is a need to cater to people that have been doing tenkara for some time. The level line comes in different weights as well. It’s not that we confuse with the weights of western fly lines, it’s a little bit different from those but the concept is the same. The smaller the number, the lighter it is. The lighter it is, the more challenging it is going to be to cast in different conditions but you can be able to keep the line off the water more easily.
The level lines can be three different weights. We have 2.5 weight, 3.5, and 4.5. We chose those weights because they don’t get confused with western fly line weights, they’re very, very different. To give a point of reference, the level line weight are based on a Japanese numbering system but 2.5 is roughly about 10 pound test of flourocarbon, and 4.5 is about 17 pound test flourocarbon. I just mentioned this to give you a sense of the diameters and that kind of thing but they’re designed specifically for casting with tenkara.
The main difference between the level line and other lines is that, we can see the line very easily. It’s a very opaque, fluorescent color. You need to be able to see your line, that’s one really important thing. Also, the stiffness and the weight, are just right for casting. Typically, when you’re looking at different weights of different level lines, you probably have been doing tenkara for a little bit longer, then you start wondering what the other lines feel like. To begin with, just pick the middle weight, 3.5. That’s what I personally use across the board. I pretty much don’t use the other weights all that much except for when I’m testing them.
A little recap here because I know it can get a little complicated, a little daunting but we have the tapered line which is super easy to cast. Anybody can learn how to cast really, really quickly. Some people like the soft feeling of the cast. Then we have the level line which comes in three different weights, 2.5, 3.5, 4.5. To start off, if you’re going to get one pick the middle one. In terms of choosing between the two, if you don’t want to think about it at all, you just want to have one line just to go fishing and not ever think much about it, get the tapered line.
If you want a little bit more flexibility and you feel like this is a sport that you really want to experiment a little bit more with in line, pick a spool of the level line. The level line can be a little less expensive as you can make four, five lines out of one spool for the same price as one spool of the tapered line.
In terms of the weights of the level lines, 2.5 is going to be easier to keep off the water but really hard to cast especially when it’s windy. 3.5 is our bread and butter that’s why we like to recommendit. 4.5 is going to sag a little bit more on the tip of the rod but it’s going to be easier to cast in general but specifically, more easily to cast when it’s windy. Those are the lines.
For the lines, one of the only accessories that we have is a line holder. We do like to recommend you get a spool to hold the line and that’s just something that you can manage in line when you have to move from one place to the other. You have to have something to wrap it around and we like the spool systems the best. Just because you can keep the line in one spool and then you can take the line away and having a home for it. We are going to have a new product, ooh, spoiler alert. We have a new product coming up and we’re going to announce that pretty soon in terms of holding the line but it’s not necessarily a substitute for the keeper that we offer. It’s something a little bit different, you don’t have to wait for it, in my opinion. It’s just something that’s going to be cool when it comes out.
I talked about the rods, talked about the lines, let’s talk a little bit about the flies. Don’t have to talk a lot about them because we only have four flies that we offer on our website. Which is very different from any other fly-fishing company. Before I even start, you can use any fly with tenkara. If you already have a fly-fishing background, use whatever fly you’re used to, that’s fine. With tenkara, there’s a slightly different way of thinking about flies. We’re not trained to imitate particular bugs, we’re not trying to create all these different, elaborate patterns. Instead, we’re using suggestive flies, just about any bug out there and focusing on our presentation of that fly.
A few episodes ago, I talked about techniques to present the fly. I highly recommend you listen to that just to get an idea what I’m talking about. Any of the flies that we offer will work to catch fish. That’s the main point here.
If you come from a western fly-fishing background, any of the flies you already use or catch fish, take a look at the tenkara flies. We have a lot of videos on our website on how to tie them as well if you tie flies. I find that the tenkara flies are very versatile, you can use it in a variety of situations and that kind of thing.
A common question that we get in terms of flies, when people are just starting off and they need to pick up some flies. First, which flies? Second, how many flies? One of the things with fly-fishing, tenkara or otherwise in western fly-fishing is that, we will lose flies. That’s just part of the sport. We’re going to get hung up on trees, eventually, and going to have a fly break off. The amount of flies that you’re going to go through in a particular day’s going to vary a lot. I mean, it might be, you might go through quite a few flies if it’s a very dense place and when you’re just starting off. Dense, I mean, dense foliage and you’re just beginning. As you get experience, you start getting caught much less on the trees.
Occasionally, you might have a day that you’re a little bit more distracted and it happens to everyone. Even in a dense foliage, I may not lose a single fly even in a full day of fishing. That’s rare but I’d say on average, an experienced angler might lose two or three flies in a medium density foliage place but in the beginning you might lose a dozen flies. That’s a lot, I don’t expect you lose that many flies.
In terms of flies, which flies should you get? Any of the flies in our selection work. Size 12 is the middle, standard size. Jason Sparks actually has a rule of 12, he says, “Get a 12 foot rod, 12 foot line, size 12 fly.” I think that’s a really good rule, Jason came up with. So, on the flies, get a size 12 and you’ll be all right.
The flies that we offer on our website, those are the ones that I personally use. My rule of thumbs is, size 12 is the standard, size 8 especially when the water is running a little faster and murkier. I want to give the fish a chance to see my fly more easily. Size 16 for places where there’s more pressure on the water and the fish are not taking anything else. That’s how I go about it.
If you’re trying to put a fly box together get I’d say one or two dozen flies is a really good number to begin with. Then, you can get a variety. One set of each of the flies is probably a good place to start, or two sets of each fly if you want to fill up a box a little bit more for a few more outings and that kind of thing.
The flies are a simple part of it, there’s not a huge amount of decision-making that you have to make when you’re buying them. It’s just one of those things that you’re probably going to either buy or tie them just to have a good variety and a good selection in your box.
So, 30 minutes of talking about tenkara rods, lines and flies, it is a simple method of fishing but you do have to spend a little bit of time shopping and trying to find the good items that you want to get. I’ll put a couple of plugs in here as well, since I’m talking about the rods, lines and flies that we offer.
Buy a rod with good warranty
At Tenkara USA, we have a really good warranty on our rods and really good customer service. When you’re buying the rod, if you find that you wish you had a different rod, you found that you purchased the wrong rod, just give us a shout. Contact us and definitely within 60 days we’ll make an exchange for you without any problems. Just give us a shout if you need anything in terms of the rods.
Also, the other cool thing about the rods that 99% of the time any of our rods are broken you never have to ship the rod back to us. Just contact our customer service department at 888 tenkara, 888 483 6527, and what we do is if you stepped on a segment, you broke a tip or whatever it is, we just send you the replacement parts that you need. That’s something that we’ve developed that is really unique in the industry. You don’t have to mail anything back to us and you don’t have to be waiting a long time and you don’t have to spend money to ship the rod somewhere. We try to make it very quick and painlessly for you to replace the segments that might have broken. You just unscrew the cap on the bottom, remove whatever parts are broken, put a new one in. That’s what we call tenkara care, that’s our warranty program and I thought I’d mention it here because it is an important decision factor in terms of choosing a rod. You want to have good customer service and you want to be able to fix a rod that breaks quickly and easily. Or, if you’re buying a rod from somebody else, you want to be assured that if the rod ever breaks for whatever reason, it can be repaired very easily. You can always give us a shout and we have a very responsive customer service team that will get your rod up and running very quickly. I hope that helps.
I know, I was recently shopping for an ice axe as I’m actually an ice climber in addition to being a fisherman. I know it’s a very daunting process to select from what is out there but at least, we’re dealing with five rod options, very distinct, different lengths. With an ice axe for climbing, man, I was losing my mind trying to find the right ones. I was spending hours researching it so hopefully; this half an hour episode will be worthwhile for you to listen to and hopefully, will help you decide what rod you want to get.
If you have any questions, email us email@example.com or give us a call at 888 483 6527. Our guys, TJ and John, are both anglers and they’re going to be happy to answer questions that you might have about what rod to get. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself with a tenkara rod in hand and fishing some time soon. You can always post questions on our Facebook page or on the tenkarausa.com/podcast page. ‘Till next time on the Tenkara Cast.